New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday he's furious that the federal government flew a presidential Boeing 747 and two fighter jets near Ground Zero.
Bloomberg said the flyover so close to the World Trade Center site showed "poor judgment" and was insensitive, adding that he's furious that the NYPD and another city agency were notified last week, but didn't tell him.
If he had known, Bloomberg said he would have tried to stop it.
The White House issued an apology for the exercise.
"It's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused," White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera said in a White House-issued paper statement.
The maneuver over lower Manhattan was part of a "photo op," and not a cause for alarm, Federal Aviation Administration officials said, but that didn't stop several area buildings from evacuating.
The exercise involved two F-16s escorting President Obama's Air Force One backup plane in the vicinity of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, Reuters reported. FAA spokesman Jim Peters told The Wall Street Journal that the maneuver was not an emergency and was coordinated in advance with the FAA and state and local officials.
Obama was not on board, Reuters reported.
One businesswoman, who works near the waterfront in Jersey City, N.J., told FOX News that it looked like a plane was going to hit their building, and everyone in her office ran down the stairs because they were "frightened."
John Leitner, a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange Building, said workers received no official prior announcement about the exercise. He said everyone panicked when they saw the low-flying planes and began running out of the building, mere blocks from the former World Trade Center site, around 10 a.m.
About 1,000 workers gathered along the Hudson River until a security officer with a bullhorn told them it was a planned exercise. Workers in other office buildings also reportedly spilled out into the street.
The New York Police Department confirmed the plane was part of a military photo shoot and buildings were being evacuated because they have their own security that thought it may have been something else.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.