Thursday, June 10, 2004

'You have 2 minutes to get out - run!'

Gov. Fletcher's plane causes Capitol evacuation

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - A plane that officials thought might be headed for the Capitol as part of a possible terrorist attack forced a brief, panicked evacuation Wednesday. It turned out to be a Kentucky State Police aircraft bringing Gov. Ernie Fletcher to President Reagan's funeral.

The scare forced the diversion of two F-15 aircraft from their normal patrols, according to Air Force Master Sgt. Gary Carpenter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The incident occurred just a half-hour before Reagan's casket arrived at Andrews Air Force Base.

Fletcher's seven-passenger King Air was on its way to Reagan Washington National Airport. The plane landed safely.

Only commercial planes are allowed to land at Reagan. General aviation planes, like Fletcher's, are allowed only if they get a waiver from the Transportation Security Administration.

The plane had permission to be in the area. But a transponder, which sends an identifying signal, failed. So local officials saw an unidentified general aviation plane on course for Washington.

Sirens went off at the Capitol as Fletcher's plane approached, and Capitol Police officers yelled, "This is not a drill!" as the building was evacuated.

Officers told women in high heels to take their shoes off and run. Police piled senators into SUVs waiting outside and peeled out of the parking lot. Officers first said the people in the building had 10 minutes to evacuate but then started yelling that only two minutes remained, urging people to move faster.

Fletcher, former House member, is attending Friday's invitation-only ceremony for Reagan at Washington National Cathedral.


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