Plane carrying marijuana strays into Obama LA airspace

LOS ANGELES Thu Feb 16, 2012 10:02pm EST

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A small plane with more than 20 pounds of marijuana strayed into restricted airspace around President Barack Obama's helicopter on Thursday in Los Angeles, prompting U.S. F-16 fighters to rush to intercept it, officials said.

The two F-16s were scrambled from March Air Reserve Base, east of Los Angeles, by North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command officials alerted to an airspace violation "in the vicinity" of Los Angeles International Airport, a NORAD spokesman said.

The fighter jets made contact with the pilot of the Cessna 182, a single-engine plane, and the pilot then complied with instructions to land at Long Beach Airport, spokesman Michael Kucharek said.

U.S. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said agents questioned the pilot and determined there was no apparent intention to harm the president.

An FBI spokeswoman said the pilot had been flying from Santa Maria, in Central California, to Long Beach and had failed to respond to radio communications prior to contact by the fighter jets.

Obama flew on the White House helicopter, Marine One, from Los Angeles to the seaside community of Corona Del Mar and back on Thursday morning for a fundraiser.

Members of the White Houses press corps made the same journey in another Marine helicopter that flew nearby. There was no sign of disruption or incident from the air.

After arriving back in Los Angeles, the president boarded Air Force One and flew to San Francisco.

There was no immediate word on whether criminal charges were filed in connection with the incident. But law enforcement sources who has been briefed on the incident said authorities found 10 kilos, or 22 pounds, of marijuana on the plane.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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