White House, Capitol evacuated briefly
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Capitol and White House were briefly evacuated Wednesday after a small plane entered restricted airspace over the city. Several other government buildings, including the Treasury Department and the U.S. Supreme Court, ordered people to safer locations.
President Bush was away from the White House exercising on his bicycle. Congressional leaders were moved from the Capitol.
A small Cessna aircraft breached the security zone over Washington, several law enforcement officials said, prompting alerts across the city.
The plane was approached by a fighter aircraft and veered away, according to a Federal Aviation Administration official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Armed security officers raced through the Capitol shouting for people to leave. "This is not a drill," guards shouted as they moved people away from the building.
Sen. Richard Shelby (news, bio, voting record), R-Ala., was on the Senate floor when police told him they needed to evacuate. "They said get out of here, so I ran. There's no joking about this kind of stuff," Shelby said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert was on the House floor talking to members when the evacuation siren went off. He left quickly with his security detail.
Two large black armored SUVs often used by House and Senate leaders sped away from the Capitol as a military jet flow overhead.
"People were surprised. I was surprised," said Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, who was on the House floor when the evacuation began. "There was so much commotion in the gallery. People were yelling in the gallery. We thought something had happened in the gallery, and then the alarm came to evacuate."
The incident sparked a flurry of emergency activity throughout the capital, which was targeted on Sept. 11, 2001 and has been under a heightened state of alert since then.
Washington's Reagan National Airport has been closed to general aviation since the Sept. 11 attacks. In the 3 1/2 years since then, hundreds of small planes have flown within the restricted airspace around the capital — a 15 3/4-mile radius around the Washington Monument.
However, it's rare for fighter jets to be scrambled.
In the most dramatic incident since the Sept. 11 attacks, thousands of people fled the Capitol and other nearby buildings when a plane flew into the restricted air space just before the funeral procession for President Ronald Reagan last June.
A communications breakdown led federal officials to believe the plane might be targeting the Capitol, but it turned out to be carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who had been cleared to fly into the area.