NEW YORK (AP) - One of the president's official planes and a
supersonic fighter jet zoomed past the lower Manhattan skyline in a
flash just as the work day was beginning Monday. Within minutes,
startled financial workers streamed out of their offices, fearing a
nightmarish replay of Sept. 11.
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and F-16 jet circled the Statue
of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline near the World Trade
Center site. Offices evacuated. Dispatchers were inundated with
calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.
But the flyover was nothing but a photo op, apparently one of a
series of flights to get pictures of the president's airliner in
front of national landmarks.
It was carried out by the Defense Department with little
warning, infuriating New York officials and putting the White House
on the defense. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't know about it,
and he later called it "insensitive" to fly so near the site of
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera,
took the blame a few hours later. The airliner was a 747 that is
called Air Force One when used by the president.
"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take
responsibility for that decision," Caldera said. "While federal
authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local
authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission
created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take
responsibility for any distress that flight caused."
When told of the flight, President Barack Obama was furious, a
White House official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss
Still, federal officials provided few details and wouldn't say
why the public and area building security managers weren't
notified. They also wouldn't address why someone thought it was a
wise decision to send two jets into New York City, all for a few
photos with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.
An administration official said the purpose of the photo op was
to update file photos of the president's plane near the Lady
This official said the White House military office told the
Federal Aviation Administration that it was updating file photos of
Air Force One near national landmarks, such as the statute in the
New York harbor and the Grand Canyon. The official requested
anonymity to give more details than the official White House
An Air Force combat photographer took pictures from one of the
fighter jets, administration officials said.
The photo op was combined with a training exercise to save
money, according to another administration official who also spoke
on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak
publicly about the behind-the-scenes discussions about the flight.
The FAA notified the New York Police Department of the flyover,
telling them photos of the Air Force One jet would be taken about
1,500 feet above the Statue of Liberty around 10 a.m. Monday. It
had a classified footnote that said "information in this document
shall not be released to the public or the media."
"Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo op right
around the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe defies the
imagination," Bloomberg said. "Poor judgment would be a nice ways
to phrase it. ... Had I known about it, I would have called them
right away and asked them not to."
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said typically a flight like this
would be publicized to avoid causing a panic, but they were under
orders not to in this case. They regularly get requests for
flyovers, but without secrecy restrictions.
The FAA also alerted an official in the mayor's office, but he
didn't tell Bloomberg, who said he first learned about it when his
"BlackBerry went off crazy with people complaining about it."
The Bloomberg official who was notified was Marc Mugnos,
director of operations for the Office of Citywide Event
Coordination and Management. Mugnos didn't immediately respond to
questions about why he didn't tell the mayor; Bloomberg's spokesman
Stu Loeser issued a statement saying: "He has been reprimanded and
a disciplinary letter will be placed in his file."
Workers in lower Manhattan were stunned by what they saw.
John Leitner, a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange
Building, said about 1,000 people "went into a total panic" and
ran out of the building around 10 a.m. after seeing the planes whiz
"We were informed after we cleared out of there," Leitner
said. "I kind of think heads should roll a little bit on that."
Employees of the Wall Street Journal also left their desks to
see what was going on.
Kathleen Seagriff, a staff assistant, said workers heard the
roar of the engines and then saw the planes from their windows.
"They went down the Hudson, turned around and came back by the
building," she said. "It was a scary scene, especially for those
of us who were there on 9/11."
Air Force spokesman Vince King said the "photo mission"
involved one of two VC-25 aircraft. The aircraft is part of the
Presidential Airlift Wing, based at Andrews Air Force Base in
The F-16 jet that flew alongside came from the D.C. National
Guard's 113th fighter wing.
"This was a photo shoot. There was no need for surprise," Sen.
Charles Schumer said. "There was no need to scare thousands of New
Yorkers who still have the vivid memory of 9/11."