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Wayward pilot was ill-prepared, FAA says

The pilot who caused a midday panic in Washington on Wednesday failed to get briefings about the weather and restricted airspace and became lost minutes after leaving a Pennsylvania airport, Federal Aviation Administration records show.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

The pilot who caused a midday panic in Washington on Wednesday failed to get briefings about the weather and restricted airspace and became lost minutes after leaving a Pennsylvania airport, Federal Aviation Administration records show.

Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer, 69, froze when he saw a Black Hawk helicopter appear near his right wing while flying toward the White House and had difficulty operating his small, single-engine aircraft, officials said yesterday. It took the valiant effort of Sheaffer's student-pilot companion, Troy D. Martin, who had only 30 logged hours of flight time, to take over the controls and land the plane at an airport in Frederick, officials said.

The FAA plans to take the most extreme action against a pilot since new airspace rules were put in place in 2003 and will revoke Sheaffer's pilot certificate, according to aviation officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the order had not been finalized. The FAA does not plan to take similar action against Martin, 36, because he is a student pilot and does not have a pilot certificate, sources said.

Drama unfolds over Capitol
New details are emerging about what took place in the cockpit of the Cessna 150 during the noontime drama that led to the evacuation of more than 35,000 people from the U.S. Capitol, White House and Supreme Court. A log prepared by federal security officials shows how tensions escalated to the point where a fighter jet was "about to use missiles" to shoot the plane down.

If Sheaffer plans to fly again, he will have to start over with flight school lessons. Those lessons cannot begin until a year after the revocation order. "Our investigation is ongoing," FAA spokesman Greg Martin said. "It's clearly a very serious incident that warrants careful and thorough review of all pertinent information."

Sheaffer and Troy Martin have been unavailable to comment since federal authorities released them Wednesday. They were forced down about 90 minutes after they took off from an airport in Smoketown, Pa., near Lancaster, headed for an air show in Lumberton, N.C.

Some neighbors said they were mystified about the whereabouts of the two men and their families. At the Sheaffer home in Warwick Township, Pa., no one answered the door or telephone. About 10 miles away, at Martin's residence in Akron, Pa., a note on the door asked reporters to go away. No one answered the door or phone there, either. A next-door neighbor, Cindy Hamill, said of the Martins: "This family's in crisis."

Praise for student pilot
The FAA is planning to cite Sheaffer for "careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another," records obtained by The Washington Post show. Sheaffer can appeal the revocation with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Within hours of the scare, authorities said that the pilots were lost and disoriented. But the account provided in FAA documents casts Martin in a different light.

"It shows a tremendous presence of mind to be able to take the training he had and, under a very stressful situation, to bring that aircraft to Frederick," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a group representing private pilots.

Dancy said Martin was probably about halfway through his student training, as most student pilots take about 60 to 75 hours to earn their certificate. Dancy said he would not expect the FAA to discipline Martin because Sheaffer was the only certified pilot onboard and therefore had responsibility for the aircraft.

"But it would not be surprising if, when it comes time, [Martin] will have a very thorough check ride" when he completes his pilot training, Dancy said.

Basic checks neglected
FAA records indicate that Sheaffer failed to take the most basic steps that are required of pilots before operating an aircraft. He did not check the weather report before he left Smoketown, nor did he check FAA's "Notices to Airmen," which serve as the agency's pre-departure required reading for pilots to alert them of airspace restrictions. Had Sheaffer checked the notices, he would have seen that there is a 2,000-square-mile area around Washington known as the Air Defense Identification Zone.

Sheaffer became lost soon after departure, records show. The documents show that he also failed to communicate with the FAA and provide necessary navigation information to ensure the safety of the flight.

The Cessna crossed through three layers of increasingly restricted airspace. The first, the Air Defense Identification Zone, is defined by the areas that are within a 30-mile radius of each of the Washington area's three major airports. The second, known as the Flight Restricted Zone, covers a 16-mile area around the Washington Monument.

Once intercepted by the Black Hawk and minutes away from flying over sensitive landmarks in the city, Sheaffer told investigators that he thought he had mistakenly flown over Camp David, another restricted airspace known as Prohibited Area P-40, FAA records show.

The FAA also said that Sheaffer was unaware of intercept procedures and did not know how to respond once he saw the Black Hawk, customs jet and two F-16s. The F-16s flew by several times, both of them dropping flares to get his attention.

Plane nearly shot down
The most dangerous breach occurred when Sheaffer crossed into Prohibited Area P-56, no-fly airspace covering the White House and the Naval Observatory. The Cessna passed over that area while being escorted away by the Black Hawk. Compounding the problem, federal authorities had difficulty establishing communication with the Cessna, a security log of the events shows.

The log shows that the Black Hawk was airborne by 11:55 a.m., as the plane kept heading into Washington. Five minutes later, the log says that "fighters are on the target" and that "flares are authorized."

At 12:03 p.m., the White House was put on its highest level of alert. At 12:04, the log shows the missiles were about to be used. No order to shoot down the plane was issued, although officials said it was the closest they have come to calling for the downing of a civilian aircraft.

The log shows that authorities initially planned to divert the plane to Leesburg. But even with the jets and helicopter roaring nearby, the Cessna was "not communicating" at 12:16, the log said. Finally, at 12:22, an entry says, "They are communicating, the fighters will force down at Frederick."

Staff writers Fredrick Kunkle and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.