Video: Fallout from NYC air scare

updated 4/28/2009 6:18:55 PM ET 2009-04-28T22:18:55

President Barack Obama has ordered an internal review to determine how the decision was made to send of one of his official airplanes on a low-flying photo op past the New York City skyline.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will lead the review. Gibbs said the point is to determine "why that decision was made and to ensure that it never happens again."

Gibbs said Obama was "furious" when he heard about the incident. Obama has called it a mistake.

On Monday, one of the Boeing 747s used by Obama and an F-16 jet circled the Statue of Liberty at the start of the work day, startling workers in lower Manhattan who feared a nightmarish replay of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Gibbs said that the review would likely take about a week or so to complete. He said he would have to confer with White House lawyers before answering a question about whether the results would be made public.

The director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera, took the blame for the incident in a statement Monday.

Besides calling it a mistake, Obama said Tuesday, "It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again."

No word on staffer's future
He did not respond to a question about whether the White House staffer who organized the flyover should keep his job.

For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and F-16 jet circled the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline near the World Trade Center site. Offices evacuated. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.

The flyover was one of a series of flights to get pictures of the plane in front of national landmarks.

It was carried out by the Defense Department with little warning, infuriating New York officials and putting the White House on the defense. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't know about it, and he later called it "insensitive" to fly so near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," Caldera said in a statement. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

Liberty photo op
Still, federal officials provided few details and wouldn't say why the public and area building security managers weren't notified. They also wouldn't address why someone thought it was a wise decision to send two jets into New York City, all for a few photos with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

An Air Force combat photographer took pictures from one of the fighter jets, administration officials said.

The photo op was combined with a training exercise to save money, according to another administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the behind-the-scenes discussions about the flight.

The FAA notified the New York Police Department of the flyover, telling them photos of the Air Force One jet would be taken about 1,500 feet above the Statue of Liberty around 10 a.m. Monday. It had a classified footnote that said "information in this document shall not be released to the public or the media."

"Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo op right around the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe defies the imagination," Bloomberg said. "Poor judgment would be a nice ways to phrase it. ... Had I known about it, I would have called them right away and asked them not to."

Mayor not told
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said typically a flight like this would be publicized to avoid causing a panic, but they were under orders not to in this case. They regularly get requests for flyovers, but without secrecy restrictions.

The FAA also alerted an official in the mayor's office, but he didn't tell Bloomberg, who said he first learned about it when his "BlackBerry went off crazy with people complaining about it."

The Bloomberg official who was notified was Marc Marc Mugnos, director of operations for the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management. Mugnos didn't immediately respond to questions about why he didn't tell the mayor; Bloomberg's spokesman Stu Loeser issued a statement saying: "He has been reprimanded and a disciplinary letter has placed in his file."

Workers in lower Manhattan were stunned by what they saw.

John Leitner, a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange Building, said about 1,000 people "went into a total panic" and ran out of the building around 10 a.m. after seeing the planes whiz nearby.

"We were informed after we cleared out of there," Leitner said. "I kind of think heads should roll a little bit on that."

Schumer: "No need to scare'
Employees of the Wall Street Journal also left their desks to see what was going on.

Kathleen Seagriff, a staff assistant, said workers heard the roar of the engines and then saw the planes from their windows.

"They went down the Hudson, turned around and came back by the building," she said. "It was a scary scene, especially for those of us who were there on 9/11."

Air Force spokesman Vince King said the "photo mission" involved one of two VC-25 aircraft. The aircraft is part of the Presidential Airlift Wing, based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The F-16 jet that flew alongside came from the D.C. National Guard's 113th fighter wing.

"This was a photo shoot. There was no need for surprise," Sen. Charles Schumer said. "There was no need to scare thousands of New Yorkers who still have the vivid memory of 9/11."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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