The Pentagon said Wednesday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not authorize the military to shoot down a small plane that prompted evacuations of Washington power centers on May 11.
The Washington Post, citing accounts given by federal officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that Rumsfeld had given the military authority to take the action, if necessary, against the diminutive Cessna 150 that had wandered into restricted airspace over the Washington area.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Rumsfeld gave no such authorization.
“The secretary was notified as soon as the situation developed. And he was available to make any necessary decisions with respect to this incursion. It never reached the point at which he had to make those kinds of decisions,” Whitman told reporters.
Whitman declined to talk about the military’s specific rules of engagement involving incursions by aircraft into restricted air space around the U.S. capital region. But he said if the situation had reached a certain point, commanders with the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, would have asked for Rumsfeld’s involvement.
“The situation never reached that point,” Whitman said, adding that “the appropriate procedures were followed.”
Asked about The Post report that the plane was 15 to 20 seconds from being shot down, Whitman said, “I don’t know how they got it so wrong.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan also said it was his understanding the situation never reached the point of Rumsfeld making a shoot-down decision.
The U.S. Capitol, White House and Supreme Court were evacuated as the plane approached. Two F-16 fighter jets fired four flares to get the pilot’s attention before escorting the propeller aircraft to nearby Frederick, Maryland.
The Federal Aviation Administration revoked pilot Hayden "Jim” Sheaffer’s license for one year. Troy Martin, a student pilot who was at the controls during the incident, was not disciplined.