The U.S. Capitol was suddenly evacuated Wednesday evening after police identified an aircraft that they said posed “a probable threat.”
The order to evacuate sent lawmaker’s staff and administrators scrambling — but the plane was actually carrying members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights, who then parachuted into Nationals Park for a pregame demonstration.
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An alert from the U.S. Capitol Police sent people scrambling from the Capitol and legislative building around 6:30 p.m — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not happy.
The incident suggested a stunning communications failure between the military, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Capitol Police, all the more remarkable because of Washington’s supposed refocus on improving security since the January 6, 2021, riot at the building.
Pelosi blamed the FAA in a statement Wednesday night, saying its “apparent failure to notify Capitol Police of the pre-planned flyover Nationals Stadium is outrageous and inexcusable.” The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.
Kelli LeGaspi, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, which was behind the Golden Knights demonstration, released a statement saying, “We are reviewing all aspects of the event to ensure all procedures were followed appropriately to coordinate both the flight and the parachute demonstration.”
Many who work on Capitol Hill have remained on edge for more than a year after hundreds of rioters entered the building through open doors or broken windows — some pushing past overwhelmed police — and ransacked the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden’s electoral win.
In Wednesday’s incident, the aircraft, a twin-engine plane, took off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and had been circling inside heavily restricted airspace close to the Capitol when the alert was sent. Radar tracking data shows the plane, a De Havilland Twin Otter, remained clear of the prohibited airspace over the Capitol Building and other government complexes at all times.
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Air traffic control recordings capture the army plane coordinating its flight with the control tower at nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The military aircraft, listed on FightRadar 24 as a call sign for Army parachute team, appears to be heading away from DC now – https://t.co/92xJkjklNT pic.twitter.com/TV4BCSd8xR
— Tom Rogan (@TomRtweets) April 20, 2022
Investigators remain confused on why the event wasn’t properly coordinated with law enforcement officials in Washington, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Multiple federal agencies began scrambling officials as the plane circled overhead.
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The capital region is defended by several surface-to-air missile sites, as well as military aircrews on round-the-clock alert. It did not appear that any of those systems were scrambled.
Officials believe, based on a preliminary review, the pilot may have not properly reported taking off or had appropriate clearance, the people said. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Pelosi said, “Congress looks forward to reviewing the results of a thorough after-action review that determines what precisely went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake.”
The plane landed back at Andrews around 6:50 p.m. after the parachutists descended into the middle of the field at Nationals Park. The stadium, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, is a little more than a mile away from the U.S. Capitol.
One witness to the chaos at the Capitol was Eireann Dolan, the wife of Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle. “I was walking the dogs past the Dirksen Senate Office Building,” Dolan tweeted. ”People started streaming out all at once. They told me to turn around and get away as fast as possible. Some people were calm but many were genuinely panicked. I know I was.”
Buildings on the Capitol complex were reopened a little after 8 p.m.
That wasn’t the only scene of disorder in D.C.
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The Washington Nationals later lost the game to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 11-2 —
HERE THEY COME @Nationals FANS!! pic.twitter.com/F64drmj1Zx
— Olivia Garvey (@Olivia7News) April 20, 2022
The Associated Press contributed to this article.