April 24, 2009 / 5:11 PM / 9 years ago

Stray small plane sparks scare in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were moved to a secure spot Friday when a small plane strayed into restricted airspace triggering a brief evacuation of parts of the White House and the U.S. Congress.

“Proper procedures were followed. The pilot was compliant. It is over,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said of the lunch-hour incident.

An official at the Federal Aviation Administration said the plane, identified as a Cessna, was intercepted by Coast Guard helicopters and later landed at a Washington-area airport without incident.

Prior to that another small private plane flew into restricted airspace but was not intercepted and also landed without incident, the FAA said.

The security scare spurred the Secret Service to temporarily clear the north lawn in front of the White House. At the U.S. Capitol, the Senate called a brief recess with most lawmakers not in the building ahead of the weekend.

The House of Representatives was not in session.

Obama and Biden were moved during the incident “out of an abundance of caution,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who provided no further details.

An “all clear” signal was given by police within minutes, and lawmakers and staff returned to the Senate floor. Workers were also evacuated briefly from the House of Representatives side of the building.

After the hijacked plane attacks of September 11, 2001, officials tightened security and increased the area of restricted airspace around Washington. There have been several incidents since then of small planes breaching Washington area security.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Deborah Charles, Donna Smith, John Crawley, and Andy Sullivan, Editing by Anthony Boadle

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