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Pilot in D.C. evacuation feared being shot down

The pilot whose small plane flew over Washington this month and triggered a security scare that emptied the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court, told NBC News Tuesday he thought he was going to be “shot out of the sky.”
/ Source: Reuters

The pilot whose small plane flew over Washington this month and triggered a security scare that emptied the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court, said Tuesday he thought he was going to be “shot out of the sky.”

Homeland security and military aircraft, including two F-16s and a Black Hawk helicopter, were scrambled to intercept the Cessna 150 turboprop and escort it to an airport in nearby Maryland May 11.

“That was very scary,” pilot Hayden “Jim” Sheaffer said on NBC's “Today" show. “After the second pass and the flares were fired I thought that we were going to get shot out of the sky.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has revoked Sheaffer’s license for one year. Troy Martin, a student pilot at the controls, was not disciplined.

It was only the second license revocation in the past year for Washington airspace violations, which occur twice a day on average, the FAA said. Other pilots have had their licenses suspended for shorter periods.

Monday, military jets intercepted a small plane that strayed into restricted airspace around Washington, but the incident triggered no frantic security response on the ground.

Scapegoat?
Sheaffer, of Lititz, Penn., will appeal the license revocation. His lawyer, Mark McDermott said he believed Sheaffer was being made a scapegoat because of the publicity surrounding the evacuations.

“When I first saw the helicopter, I knew we were some place we weren’t supposed to be,” Sheaffer said, adding that he was unable to communicate on the radio frequency indicated by the Black Hawk pilot.

The FAA said preflight and in-flight actions by Sheaffer, who was in charge of the plane, “severely compromised safety and security.”

Regulators alleged Sheaffer did not properly familiarize himself with all of the flight rules for operating near the U.S. capital and made numerous technical and judgment errors during the excursion into prohibited airspace.

The FAA said in its order that Sheaffer prepared an incorrect flight plan, used outdated information on airspace restrictions, became lost soon after takeoff from Smoketown, Pennsylvania, and failed to maintain required communication with air traffic controllers.

Regulators also said Sheaffer should have taken over flying from Martin in the dual-control cockpit, but never did.