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White House Evacuated After Small Plane Flew in Restricted Airspace - 2002-06-20

The White House was briefly evacuated Wednesday after a small, private plane flew into restricted airspace over the presidential mansion and failed to respond to radio calls.

It was the first time the White House has been evacuated since September 11, when authorities feared one of the four airliners hijacked by terrorists, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was headed directly for the presidential mansion.

But unlike last September, Wednesday night's brief evacuation of staff and reporters triggered no panic. Even though the Cessna came within a few kilometers of the White House, the Secret Service did not judge President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush to be at risk. They were not escorted out and Mrs. Bush says she and the president were unaware of the incident.

"I did not even know about this until this morning when I heard it on the news," she said. "Evidently, there were some frightening moments for just a few moments."

The FBI attributes the brief scare to the pilot's attempt to avoid bad weather. He is not expected to be charged. Fighter jets did, however, escort the plane to a landing in Richmond, Virginia.