WASHINGTON — A pregame skydiving display at a Washington Nationals baseball game sparked a false alarm at the United States Capitol complex as police ordered staff to evacuate due to a “likely threat” from a nearby aircraft.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Capitol Police sent out an alert to evacuate the area. About 20 minutes later, they tweeted a follow-up message saying the Capitol “was evacuated out of caution tonight. There is no threat to the Capitol.
Officials said the false alarm stemmed from confusion over a planned event with the Golden Knights, the Army’s parachute display team, at Nationals Park, and what appeared to be a lack of coordination between different parts of the federal government. Before the green light, some bewildered DC residents posted photos of distant people appearing to parachute into the city.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) praised Capitol Police for their swift action and blamed the Federal Aviation Administration, saying its “apparent failure to notify Capitol Police of the planned flyover…is outrageous and inexcusable”.
In a statement, the FAA said it “takes seriously its role in protecting national airspace and will conduct a thorough and expeditious review of events tonight.” A spokeswoman for the United States Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, referred all questions to the United States Capitol Police.
“We are reviewing all aspects of the event to ensure that all procedures were followed appropriately to coordinate both the flight and the parachute demonstration,” said Kelli LeGaspi, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. , who oversaw the skydiving event.
On Wednesday evening, police were stationed in the streets surrounding the Capitol and an alarm could be heard ringing. Congress is out of session this week and most lawmakers are back in their constituencies. The suspension and the late hour of the alert reduced the number of people to be evacuated. Shortly before 7 p.m., the area around the Capitol building had largely returned to normal, with runners, pedestrians and cars taking to the streets and sidewalks as they usually would.
The Capitol has regular evacuations that turn out to be false alarms, but the initial alert was shocking in its specificity and raised the specter of a 9/11-style attack, when terrorists in 2001 flew passenger planes to the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. towers and another plane was heading for the Capitol but crashed in Pennsylvania.
In 2015, police arrested a man who was flying a gyrocopter several hundred yards from the Capitol to protest campaign funding. Authorities usually go on high alert when suspicious aircraft are spotted near the Capitol, but the gyrocopter was not detected.
—Andrew Restuccia, Alexa Corse, and Micah Maidenberg contributed to this article.
Write to Lindsay Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com
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