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Small plane strays near US Capitol

Associated Press / April 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - A small, single-engine plane strayed yesterday into restricted air space near the US Capitol, forcing anxious officials to place the White House in temporary lockdown and take steps to evacuate the Capitol.

The White House said President Obama was "briefly relocated" during the incident, but declined to say where he was taken.

The Senate was in session, and briefly recessed. The House was not meeting. Malcolm Wiley, Secret Service spokesman, said the security measures were taken "out of an abundance of caution."

The episode was over within minutes as two F-16 fighter jets and two Coast Guard helicopters were dispatched to intercept the plane and escort it to an airport in Maryland, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Michael Kucharek, North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman, said the two helicopters established communications with the pilot.

The owner of Indian Head Airport in Charles County, Md., said the pilot and his wife were en route from Maine to North Carolina to visit the couple's daughter. Owner Gil Bauserman said a technology problem on the Cessna 180, rather than anything nefarious, forced the plane to enter restricted air space, prompting the swift military response.

"It was just a navigation mistake; the GPS went and the pilot got confused," said Bauserman, who identified the pilot as William Wales.

The Secret Service questioned the shaken pilot in one of the hangers. "When F-16s showed up on this guy's wings, he was scared to death," Bauserman said.

Authorities have been on high alert for planes entering air space in and around major government buildings since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. FAA figures show that since then aircraft have entered restricted air space around Washington, D.C., roughly twice a day.