WASHINGTON — Shortly before the Washington Nationals took the field Wednesday to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks, the U.S. Capitol -- about a mile-and-a-half away -- was being evacuated. DC Police said a plane used for a parachute landing triggered the U.S. Capitol Police to send the evacuation alert. The U.S. Army's Golden Knight parachute team was scheduled to land at Nats Park during the team's Military Appreciation Night.
It was quickly determined that there was no threat, and the occupants of the evacuated buildings -- including the Capitol, Capitol Visitor Center, Hart, Dirksen, Russell, Cannon, Longworth, Rayburn, Library of Congress (Jefferson, Madison and Adams), and the U.S. Botanic Garden (Administrative and Conservatory) buildings -- were cleared to return.
Yet, numerous questions remain on what happened, and where the communication broke down regarding a plane entering restricted airspace, without law enforcement being aware of the plan.
While the Nationals have thus far declined to comment on Wednesday's events, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Army have all released statements, with some finger-pointing. USCP claims they were never given "advanced notice of an approved flight," thus triggering the evacuation.
See the full response from the USCP below:
"The United States Capitol Police must make split-second decisions that could make the difference between life and death. The decision to evacuate the campus is not one we take lightly.
The last time we had an evacuation due to a potential air threat was in June of 2014. Every week the USCP is made aware of hundreds of authorized flights in the restricted airspace. It is extremely unusual not to be made aware of a flight in advance.
Last night around 6:30 pm, an unidentified plane was spotted within seconds of the U.S. Capitol. As soon as it was determined that we were not given advanced notice of an approved flight, our officers followed USCP policies and procedures and immediately led everyone safely out of the Congressional buildings. Seconds matter.
The single-engine airplane was later determined to be a military flight by the Golden Knights Parachute Team for Military Appreciation night at Nationals Park."
According to FlightAware, the plane -- a De Havilland Canada Twin Otter-- took off on time from Joint Base Andrews at 6:09 p.m. and landed back at JBA at 6:50 p.m., 33 minutes past its scheduled landing at 6:17 p.m. The planned flight was slated for 26 miles but clocked an actual 84 miles.
The FAA, for its part, has acknowledged the events and said that a full review of what occurred is forthcoming.
"The FAA takes its role in protecting the national airspace seriously and will conduct a thorough and expeditious review of the events," the FAA wrote in a statement. "We know our actions affect others, especially in our nation's capital region, and we must communicate early and often with our law enforcement partners."
However, on Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement claiming the U.S. Capitol Police acted vigilantly and claiming the FAA failed to notify police of the pre-planned flyover.
“The Federal Aviation Administration’s apparent failure to notify Capitol Police of the pre-planned flyover Nationals Stadium is outrageous and inexcusable," Pelosi wrote. "The unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence was particularly harmful for members, staff and institutional workers still grappling with the trauma of the attack on their workplace on January 6th."
Pelosi said Congress will review what happened Wednesday to find out what exactly went wrong and who at the FAA will be held accountable for the "outrageous and frightening mistake."
The Army released a follow-up statement Thursday after saying Wednesday that it would be reviewing all coordination of the planned jump. The new statement claims all required documentation was submitted on the Army's end and FAA approval was given prior to the jump.
"After an initial review of the pre-planning and coordination for the U.S. Army Golden Knights flight and parachute demonstration that took place during the Military Appreciation Night event at the Washington Nationals baseball game in Washington, D.C., April 20, we have confirmed that the parachute team filed all appropriate and required Federal Aviation Administration documentation and received FAA approval prior to operating within the National Capitol Region’s airspace," Kelli LeGaspi, a spokeswoman for United States Army Recruiting Command, said. "The team also confirmed the pilots established and maintained communication with the FAA prior to and throughout the operation."
Eireann Dolan, the wife of Nats pitcher Sean Doolittle, witnessed the evacuation on Capitol Hill and called it "possibly the scariest moment of [her] life."
"I was walking the dogs past the Dirksen Senate Office Building," she tweeted Wednesday. "People started streaming out all at once. They told me to turn around and get away as fast as possible. Some people were calm but many were genuinely panicked. I know I was. Anyway I hope the parachute landing looked cool."
The evacuation came one day after Capitol Police conducted routine training exercises which involved emergency vehicles and low-flying helicopters.