WASHINGTON — Police briefly ordered evacuation of the U.S. Capitol and the White House and President Bush was moved from his residence to a safer location Wednesday evening when a private plane ventured into restricted airspace.
The all-clear came within minutes — well before the White House was fully evacuated.
The White House briefly went to red alert — its highest level, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.
A private turboprop entered restricted airspace northeast of Reagan National Airport, according to a federal aviation official. Jets scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base and intercepted the plane eight miles northeast of the Capitol. As of 6:45 p.m. EST, the fighters escorted the plane to the Winchester Regional Airport in Winchester, Va., where it landed without incident.
An aircraft could be heard overhead at the Capitol, in an area customarily closed to aircraft.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Capitol Police notified senators’ offices: “This is an emergency message ... Capitol Police are tracking unidentified aircraft.”
The pilot of the 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 from her home.
Standridge Color Corp. Bob Standridge said that 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 said federal authorities planned to talk with company officials Thursday morning.
Senate had been in session
The Senate was in the process of three roll calls and had finished the third, an amendment to an appropriation to a bill for veterans’ health benefits, when the alert sounded, NBC's congressional correspondent Chip Reid reported.
“It was orderly to the point where people were rolling their eyes,” Reid said. “Each time this happens it’s more orderly, and hopefully it will not get to the point where people will not get complacent about it.”
Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, said the alert system at the White House did not go off. The Capitol runs on a separate system. McClellan said that senior staff were beginning to move as the all-clear sounded.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.