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Jets Intercept Plane Near White House

November 11, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Air Force fighter jets scrambled Monday to intercept a private plane that flew too close to the White House, triggering a security scare that led Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush’s chief of staff to be moved to a secure location.

The plane was later determined not to be a threat. The president was away at the time, on a trip to Arkansas and South Carolina, and his wife, Laura, had a speaking engagement in Maine.

Cheney and White House chief of staff Andrew Card were moved temporarily as a precautionary measure, said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. They resumed their normal routines soon thereafter, said McClellan, who was with Bush in Little Rock, Ark.

The privately owned plane was detected flying down the Potomac River toward Washington when it entered restricted airspace, said Secret Service spokeswoman Jean Mitchell.

The fighters were scrambled from nearby Andrews Air Force in Maryland and they intercepted the plane, escorting it out of the area, she said.

``He was within eight miles″ of the White House, she said. ``It’s enough to affect our emergency response plan.″ Armed officers took up positions on the White House lawn during the incident.

The Air Force jets peeled off when the plane left restricted airspace but it was tracked on radar until it landed in Siler City, N.C., for refueling, said Dan Dluzneski, another Secret Service spokesman. The pilot allowed authorities to search the plane, and told Secret Service officers that he had been unable to contact the fighter jets.

``As far as the Secret Service is concerned, it’s closed,″ said Dluzneski. He said the pilot had purchased the plane and had it serviced in Pennsylvania over the weekend and was flying it to Florida. ``He thought he was abiding by the flight restrictions. Obviously he was not,″ Dluzneski said.

The plane was registered to Mark Whitnell of Jacksonville, Fla. He did not return phone messages left for him Monday night.

Maj. Douglas Martin, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said it had been determined the plane was not a threat.

``From the NORAD perspective, he’s not a threat, and that’s the main thing for us,″ Martin said.

The plane apparently strayed within the Air Defense Identification Zone, roughly a 23-mile radius around Washington, according to Les Dorr, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Associated Press reporter Holly Hickman in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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