- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Federal authorities yesterday ordered — then quickly rescinded — an evacuation of the U.S. Capitol and the White House when a private turboprop plane strayed into restricted airspace.

The incident occurred about 6:20 p.m., when the plane drifted into restricted airspace northeast of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, federal aviation officials said.

Fighter jets scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base and intercepted the plane eight miles northeast of the Capitol. The fighters escorted the plane to Winchester, Va., where it landed without incident about 6:45 p.m.

Unlike a similar incident last month, D.C. officials said they were alerted about the evacuation via phone calls from various federal agencies.

D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the FBI notified the head of the department’s special operations division by telephone about the threat.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he was notified by his staff after one of his officers had spotted the evacuation already under way and had called the Capitol Police’s Command Center.

“These things happen very quickly sometimes. Because a plane is in flight, you don’t have a lot of time,” the chief said. “However, we need to know because of the impact large numbers of people going out into the street have.”

Hundreds of people streamed out of the Capitol as the Capitol Police went from Code Orange to Code Red in a matter of minutes necessitating a full evacuation.

It was the second time in six weeks that the building has been evacuated due to a plane flying inside the security perimeter.

Both the Senate and the House were voting at the time.

Unlike the May 11 evacuation, hundreds of staffers, reporters and members of Congress were evacuated without an air of panic and waited just 20 minutes for the evacuation to end.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said he was agitated when he discovered that the aircraft was a private plane that should have been aware of the air-proximity restrictions.

The offending plane was a King Air 350, a twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft, said Michael D. Kucharek, a spokesman for North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.

Chief Ramsey said he learned of the event after receiving a page from police headquarters, adding that his officer had contacted the D.C. Emergency Management Agency (EMA). He said he then received a page from the EMA.

Neither EMA Director Barbara Childs-Pair nor Andrew L. Jackson Jr., deputy director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, returned a call to comment.

D.C. officials have complained that haphazard evacuations hamper efforts to control and move crowds, transport injured persons, dispatch and track emergency equipment, and otherwise manage during a crisis.

City officials said this month that “redundancies” in an emergency protocol have been employed to ensure that officials are alerted.

Part of the plan includes placing an officer at the Transportation Security Administration and possibly a second police officer at Homeland Security’s Operations Center.

• Brian DeBose contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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