WASHINGTON – The government is pledging to take serious action against the pilot whose small plane strayed over Washington last week, leading to the panicked evacuations of the White House (search), the Capitol (search) and the Supreme Court (search).
"Any enforcement action we might take is not done lightly," said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigation could result in the revocation of Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer Jr.'s pilot's license. Student pilot Troy D. Martin, who was also in the single-engine Cessna 150 (search), does not have a pilot certificate, so he will not be subject to the same action.
"It's quite evident from anybody who witnessed Wednesday's incident that the pilot clearly had no idea what he wandered into," Greg Martin said Saturday.
Sheaffer, 69, froze when a Black Hawk (search) helicopter appeared near his right wing as he was flying toward the White House and had a hard time handling his small aircraft, officials told The Washington Post (search). Troy Martin, 36, who had logged only 30 hours of flight time, took over the controls and landed the plane at an airport in Frederick, Md., the paper reported Saturday.
Sheaffer and Martin took off from Smoketown, Pa., on Wednesday to go to an air show in Lumberton, N.C.
Their plane entered restricted airspace and then continued flying toward highly sensitive areas, prompting evacuations of tens of thousands of people as military aircraft scrambled to intercept it. Alert levels at the White House and the Capitol were raised to their highest level — red.
Customs officials had scrambled a Black Hawk helicopter, which peeled away when two F-16 fighter jets arrived at the scene. The jets dipped their wings — a pilot's signal to "follow me" — and tried to contact the pilot on the radio. When the Cessna didn't change course, the jet pilots dropped flares.
Finally, when the Cessna came within three miles of the White House — just a few minutes flying time — it altered course.
After landing in Frederick, the pilot and student pilot were handcuffed and questioned before being released. Authorities said the two had become lost en route to North Carolina from Pennsylvania.
Sheaffer and Martin have not been available for comment.
Sheaffer didn't take the most basic steps required of pilots before operating an aircraft, the Post reported, citing FAA records. He failed to check the weather report before leaving Smoketown, and he didn't check the FAA's "Notices to Airmen," which informs pilots of airspace restrictions.
Greg Martin, the FAA spokesman, would not confirm the Post's account.