President Obama’s White House was forced to issue an apology Monday after a photo opportunity gone badly wrong — an Air Force 747 plane did a low flyover over Lower Manhattan, prompting terrified citizens to flee from their offices and high-profile accusations of government insensitivity in the post 9/11 era.
White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera issued a brief statement saying he was too blame.
“Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision,” he said. “While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, its clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
The panic started Monday morning when a backup 747 known as Air Force One when the president is aboard flew by Lower Manhattan with a U.S. fighter jet closely following, rattling windows and causing some limited evacuations.
Over the course of a half-hour starting at 10 a.m, the plane flew low over the city and near the Statue of Liberty.
The late afternoon statement came as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — an Obama ally so far — said he was outraged.
A few hours earlier, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had dodged questions about the incident, saying he hadn’t followed it closely.
An administration official said the Federal Aviation Administration was informed the exercise would be taking place, and notified Mr. Bloomberg’s office on April 22.
The problem was the FAA was told the information was classified and that it should not alert the press to warn the public.
New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer blasted the FAA in a Monday press conference, calling the chain of events “absolutely outrageous and appalling” given the vivid memories New Yorkers still have of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Schumer said the FAA seems to be “directly responsible for the public panic.”
“In New York of all places not to warn the public that one of the largest jets in the country tailed by a fighter jet is going to fly low over their community defies logic and really borders on being either cruel or very very stupid,” the New York senator said. We cannot allow this to happen again.”