LOS ANGELES – Two F-16 fighter jets intercepted a small private plane that violated restricted airspace Friday as President Barack Obama was about to depart from Los Angeles International Airport aboard Air Force One, authorities said.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled the two jets that intercepted the Piper 28 aircraft over northeast Los Angeles at approximately 9:45 a.m. PDT, and followed it until it landed about five minutes later and was met by local law enforcement, NORAD said in a statement.
The Piper landed at the small airport in El Monte about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, local police Lt. Dan Burlingham said.
The pilot, who was flying alone, was detained by police until Secret Service Agents arrived, he said.
After questioning the man and searching the plane, the Secret Service allowed him to refuel and leave the airport, Burlingham said.
"It appears, as far as we know, that it was just a mistake," Burlingham said.
He did not know the pilot's identity or any other details about him. It was not clear from what airport he had taken off, but it was not El Monte, Burlingham said.
NORAD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis in Colorado declined to say where the F-16s were based.
"They post up these flight restrictions and NORAD's responsibility is to enforce them," he said. "If the aircraft is unresponsive or wanders into restricted airspace, we have a set of procedures to follow."
Obama departed from Los Angeles the morning after a fundraising visit where he raised $15 million -- a record for a single fundraiser -- at a dinner with some 150 Hollywood donors at the home of George Clooney.
A similar scenario occurred at the end of an Obama Los Angeles visit on Feb. 16, when F-16 jets intercepted a plane that entered the airspace of Obama's helicopter, Marine One.
That plane was forced to land at Long Beach Airport, where police said they found about 40 pounds of marijuana during a search of the Cessna, and the pilot was arrested.
The Secret Service said Obama was never in danger.