Update: No one accepted responsibility Thursday for the breakdown that led to an evacuation of the US Capitol as a small plane headed to a parachute demonstration the night before, but fingers were being pointed. The Army said it notified the FAA of its flight, but Capitol Police officials said the agency didn't tell them, the Washington Post reports. The FAA wasn't taking questions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the FAA and praised Capitol Police for the quick reaction. Congress will review the results of an upcoming investigation, Pelosi said, to decide "who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake." Our original story from Wednesday follows:
The US Capitol was briefly evacuated Wednesday evening after police identified an aircraft as "a probable threat"—but the plane was actually carrying members of the Army Golden Knights, who then parachuted into Nationals Park for a pregame demonstration. The alert from Capitol Police sent congressional staffers fleeing around 6:30pm, the AP reports. The incident suggested a stunning communications failure between the military and the Capitol Police, all the more remarkable because of the focus on improving security since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the building by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
The aircraft, a twin-engine plane, took off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and had been circling inside heavily restricted airspace close to the Capitol when the alert was sent. Radar tracking data shows the plane, a De Havilland Twin Otter, remained clear of the prohibited airspace over the Capitol and other government buildings at all times. Air traffic control recordings capture the Army plane coordinating its flight with the control tower at nearby Reagan Washington National Airport. Investigators were working Wednesday evening to determine why the event wasn't properly coordinated with law enforcement officials in Washington. Multiple federal agencies began scrambling officials as the plane circled overhead.
Other buildings in the Capitol Complex, including the visitors center and congressional office buildings, also were evacuated, per the Hill. The House and Senate were not in session at the time. The capital region is defended by surface-to-air missile sites, as well as military aircrews on round-the-clock alert. It did not appear that any of those systems were scrambled. Officials said, based on a preliminary review, the pilot may have not properly reported taking off or had appropriate clearance. The plane landed back at Andrews around 6:50pm after the parachutists descended into the middle of the field at Nationals Park. The stadium, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, is a little more than a mile away from the Capitol. It was Military Appreciation Day at the stadium, per Yahoo Sports.
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