White House and Fed Buildings Evacuated
Plane Strays Near Executive Mansion; Bomb Scare Clears Banking Agency

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 20, 2002; Page B05

The White House was evacuated and fighter jets were scrambled last night after a pilot accidentally flew his single-engine Cessna into restricted airspace near the Capitol, officials said.

Two F-16 fighter jets escorted the Cessna 182 to Richmond International Airport, law enforcement officials said. The White House evacuation was called off about 15 minutes after the pilot came within four miles of the executive mansion, then made contact with the Federal Aviation Administration's Leesburg flight service station for a weather update.

The emergency occurred a few hours after a bomb scare outside two Federal Reserve buildings in Northwest Washington prompted D.C. and federal authorities to evacuate about 1,300 federal workers. That incident forced the closure of several streets just as the evening commute began.

The errant plane was spotted about 8 p.m. crossing the temporarily restricted airspace at 10,500 feet -- about 8,000 feet lower than allowed -- and did not respond to radio communications from flight control towers, said Secret Service spokesman Brian Marr.

The Secret Service set an emergency procedure into motion, moving staff members and visitors away from the White House, Marr said.

President Bush had returned to the White House from a Republican fundraiser about 20 minutes before the emergency and remained inside, a law enforcement source said.

The pilot, who was flying from Massachusetts to Raleigh, N.C., crossed an airspace restriction imposed after Sept. 11 and skirted the permanently restricted area directly above the White House, said Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman.

The restrictions -- called Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMs -- are updated by the FAA daily. Pilots are required to check their flight paths for NOTAMs, Marr said.

The Cessna landed in Richmond about 8:50 p.m., and the pilot and his passenger waited on the taxiway until federal agents interviewed them, airport officials said.

The pilot could face fines, a letter of reprimand or license revocation, Brown said.

The earlier evacuation occurred about 3:20 p.m., when a custodian working for the Federal Reserve noticed a suspicious object in a trash bin just outside the reserve's two buildings on 20th Street, between Constitution Avenue and C Street NW.

Authorities sent in a robot to defuse the object, then realized it was a false alarm, officials said. Roads were closed from about 3:30 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., snarling traffic.

Staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.