Cessna 150 strays into prohibited airspace over Washington, D.C.

November 5, 2005

Cessna 150 strays into prohibited airspace over Washington, D.C.

Meet the press - sometimes it's funny...

Wednesday afternoon found AOPA President Phil Boyer moving from TV camera to TV camera in back-to-back interviews outside AOPA headquarters. Most of what he said, unfortunately, never got on the air, but getting correct information to the reporters was important nevertheless. Of course, some of what he said was never meant to get on the air. Get a behind-the-scenes look in this short (1:30) video of how much fun the "serious business" of news can be!

AOPA responds to media reports

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In the hours after the incident, AOPA President Phil Boyer and members of the AOPA media relations staff focused on correcting the many factual errors and misconceptions appearing in news reports.

AOPA staff spoke with most of the major media outlets, including CNN, ABC, and NBC, in an effort to correct the sometimes-outrageous statements being made by so-called aviation experts with little or no understanding of general aviation.

"A Cessna 150 is an extremely small two-seat airplane. Even fully loaded it weighs significantly less than a Honda Civic. It's simply incapable of doing much damage," said Boyer. "From what we can tell, these pilots simply made the mistake of getting lost in some of the most complex and highly regulated airspace in the country."

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Getting it right

AOPA spoke to dozens of news outlets following Wednesday's incident, including: CNN, ABC, CBS, KTVU-TV, WABC-TV, WBAL-TV, WJLA-TV, WUSA-TV, WTOP Radio, Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Pilots who flew their Cessna 150 into prohibited airspace over Washington, D.C., Wednesday, causing evacuations of the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court, apparently failed to properly plan their flight.

Hayden Sheaffer and Troy Martin, a student pilot, were flying from their home base at Pennsylvania's Smoketown Airport (S37), to a fly-in in Lumberton, North Carolina - a path that took them into the Washington Metropolitan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and within three miles of the Capitol.

"We're relieved that the system for detecting and diverting errant aircraft worked, but this is a hard lesson that all pilots should learn from. Every pilot is responsible for proper flight planning, and in today's security environment, you just can't afford to make mistakes," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

The pilots had apparently discussed their plans for the flight at a recent meeting of the flying club of which they are members. The men, who each own one-tenth of the aircraft, had followed club procedures for scheduling the airplane for the trip. Contrary to media reports, neither man is a flight instructor.

"We can't believe it," said David Nye, president of the flying club. He added that he didn't understand how the pilots could have been unaware of the airspace restrictions, saying that AOPA has done everything possible to educate pilots about the ADIZ and proper procedures for operating in the Washington area.

The airplane flew into restricted airspace and was intercepted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Black Hawk helicopter and Citation jet. Crews in those aircraft attempted to establish radio communications with the pilots. Two F-16s dropped four warning flares in the path of the airplane in an effort to divert it. The Citation crew was then able to talk to the pilots and ordered the aircraft to fly west to Frederick, site of AOPA headquarters, escorted by the CBP aircraft, where it landed shortly before 1 p.m. Once on the ground, the pilots were arrested by CBP agents and Maryland State Police troopers.

Merv King, also a member of the flying club, said he was certain that the airspace incursion was unintentional.

"I know these people. Not one of them would do anything to harm anyone," King said.

The men exited the aircraft at gunpoint before being handcuffed and detained for questioning by the Secret Service. No criminal charges were filed against the men. Both men reportedly cooperated with authorities and were released the same day.

The aircraft was detained on the runway at Frederick while a bomb-sniffing dog was called to the scene. Lt. Ken Hasenei of the Maryland State Police, who described the use of a bomb dog as a "routine precaution," said the aircraft had been searched and there was no reason to believe it contained explosives. The aircraft was later towed to a hangar at Frederick.

Update: May 13, 2005, 1:09 p.m.