The U.S. Capitol Police ordered an emergency evacuation of the Capitol building and several others on Wednesday because of an aircraft in the area that was identified as a “probable threat.”
The security force later said there was no threat and was apparently unaware that the plane they spotted was a U.S. Army aircraft carrying the Golden Knights skydiving team to Nationals Park in the Navy Yard neighborhood for an exhibition.
The evacuation order was issued at 6:30 p.m. and applied to the Capitol, the Capitol Visitor Center, the U.S. Botanical Garden, and the Library of Congress.
At the time of the evacuation most congress members were out of town, as Congress is in a two-week recess that ends next week.
The Associated Press reported that the Army plane took off from nearby Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The flight did not apparently have proper clearance to fly near the Capitol and did not report taking off to the Capitol Police. Just before the evacuation was ordered, the single engine plane reportedly failed to respond to radio communications and was circling the city near the Capitol Complex.
The Army plane did not fly directly over the Capitol and air traffic control records indicate it had coordinated its flight with the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport control tower.
The skydiving exhibition was conducted at the baseball stadium just before an MLB game between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Nationals were hosting the Army skydivers as part of the team’s military appreciation day promotion at the stadium.
The disturbing failure to coordinate between the Army, Capitol Police, and the Federal Aviation Administration came even as Washington has allegedly improved security near the Capitol after the disruptions of January 6, 2021.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Wednesday evening laying the blame for the incident on the FAA. She said that the failure to notify the Capitol Police office of the flyover mission at the baseball park is “outrageous and inexcusable.”
The FAA did not respond to a request for comment on the matter from the Associated Press.
The U.S. Army Recruiting Command is responsible for the Golden Knights exhibition, and issued a statement saying that it is reviewing the incident to ensure that it followed all procedures appropriately.