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More Fearmongering: Police Briefly Evacuate the U.S. Capitol

Associated Press | June 30, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - For the second time in as many months, a small plane got a huge reaction after it flew into the restricted airspace around the nation's capital.

The White House briefly went to red alert at about the dinner hour Wednesday, and President Bush was hurried from his residence to a safer location. Lawmakers were ordered to evacuate the U.S. Capitol.

But the all-clear was sounded just minutes later, after two fighter jets intercepted the twin-engine, propeller-driven plane eight miles northeast of the Capitol. The White House evacuation hadn't even been completed.

The pilot of plane was Scott Murwin of Athens, Ga., a longtime pilot for Standridge Color Corp., a plastics products company based in Social Circle, Ga., his wife confirmed.

``He was at the wrong altitude,'' Debbie Murwin said in a brief telephone interview late Wednesday from her home.

Bob Standridge, president of Standridge Color Corp., said he had not talked to Murwin but that Murwin had dropped off some Standridge employees to attend a seminar in Wilmington, Del., and was heading for Ohio when the flight was intercepted.

``I assume it's a simple mistake, the gentleman's been a pilot for several years,'' said Standridge, who added that federal authorities planned to talk with company officials Thursday morning.

The plane, a King Air 350 turboprop, entered restricted airspace northeast of Reagan National Airport, according to federal aviation officials. Jets scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., intercepted the plane and escorted it to Winchester, Va., where it landed without incident.

The plane was bound for Defiance, Ohio, where Standridge Color Corp. opened a plant this year, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Capitol Police notified senators' offices: ``This is an emergency message. ... Capitol Police are tracking unidentified aircraft.''

At the White House, Bush had left the Oval Office for the day and was in the residence when the alert sounded. ``The president was temporarily relocated,'' presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said. Some senior staff also were seen hurrying from the West Wing to the residence area where a bomb shelter is located.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said the Capitol was ordered evacuated when the plane was about 5 minutes away. It was traveling southwest, then turned south toward the Capitol, but headed away a minute and a half later, Gainer said.

The plane originated in Delaware and was headed to Ohio, said Gary Bracken, a spokesman for the Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Bracken said the pilot wrote a flight plan but did not file it with federal officials.

The House and Senate were both voting when the alarm sounded. In a virtual replay of the scare last month, members of Congress, staff, visitors and others were told to leave the building quickly.

Agents ran out of the gate from the White House compound onto Pennsylvania Avenue and began clearing pedestrians from the street. At first, officers did not seem hurried, and pedestrians were walking casually. ``It's in your best interest to hurry along,'' an agent said.

The scare lasted about 10 minutes at the White House before officers gave the all-clear and Pennsylvania Avenue was reopened.

On May 11 a private Cessna violated restricted airspace and sent lawmakers and other government workers scrambling from the Capitol, the White House and other federal buildings.

Bush was on a bike ride away from the White House that day.

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