WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A White House military aide who authorized an Air Force flyover of New York that caused panic among some people in the city resigned on Friday.
Louis Caldera said in a resignation letter to President Barack Obama that the controversy over the mission — a photo shoot of a jumbo jet used as Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty in the background — made it impossible for him to lead the White House Military Office.
The flight over lower Manhattan for a photo shoot scared some New Yorkers who remembered the September 11 attacks in 2001 involving hijacked airliners that destroyed the World Trade Center. Some people panicked and evacuated office buildings when the planes flew over.
Caldera had approved the mission. His resignation came on the same day Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a letter to Senator John McCain that the photo shoot cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $357,000.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama had accepted the resignation. Obama had been described as furious when the incident occurred on April 27 and demanded a review.
McCain, who lost to Obama in last year’s presidential election and is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the incident an “Air Farce 1 photo op.”
The report of the review, also released on Friday, said ultimately Caldera did not notify relevant White House officials about the flyover in advance.
“When asked why he failed to do so, he did not offer a coherent explanation. He stated that it was not a conscious decision — he did not intend not to notify them,” it said. “Instead, he suggested that it may have been an oversight.”
Also released was a photo of the Air Force jet over the State of Liberty from the mission.
Gates, providing details demanded by McCain in the wake of the incident, said the cost of a jumbo jet that is used as the president’s plane, Air Force One, was estimated between $300,658 and $328,835.
The cost of two accompanying F-16 jets was $28,177 for a total of $357,012, Gates said.
The Air Force’s presidential airlift group planned the April 27 flight in part to get pictures of the planes flying with the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline as a backdrop.
Gates said in his letter the reaction to the low-flying planes was understandable and “we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission.”
Gates said the photo shoot was only part of the planes’ mission, which also included practice instrument approaches and landings at Atlantic City International Airport.
The entire mission had been coordinated with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control representatives in the New York area, he wrote.
“I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and DOD (Department of Defense) officials,” Gates said.
He said the incident was being reviewed carefully by defense officials.
Editing by Peter Cooney