Air National Guard Fighter Jets Respond Quickly to Stray Aircraft
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Crews from the District of Columbia Air National Guard's 121st Fighter Squadron scrambled at noon today to intercept the stray Cessna aircraft after it violated airspace restrictions. The incident sparked evacuations at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Two F-16 fighter jet crews took off from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., approached the aircraft, and used short-wave radios to signal the pilot, Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Powell, public affairs noncommissioned officer for the 113th Wing, said.
The fighter jets fired four warning flares to get the pilot's attention, then escorted the aircraft out of restricted airspace to a local airport in nearby Frederick, Md., according to a statement issued by North American Aerospace Defense Command.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters today that a Black Hawk helicopter assigned to the Department of Homeland Security also escorted the plane.
After the mission, the F-16s involved returned to Andrews Air Force Base, NORAD officials said.
McClellan said the aircraft came within three miles of the White House before turning west. The threat level at the White House was raised to red -- the highest level -- at 12:03 p.m., before the interception was successful, he said. The national threat level was not affected.
By 12:11 p.m., the White House threat level returned to yellow, and the "all clear" was issued three minutes later, he said.
Powell called the interception mission "a standard response" to threats against the U.S. capital.
He said aircraft occasionally stray into the no-fly zone over the National Capital area, particularly during sunny days such as today.
The 113th Wing, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, has served on rotational duty in support of Operation Noble Eagle since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Powell said.
"This is one reason the D.C. area should feel secure," he said. "It shows we're ready to respond at a moment's notice."
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