The United States Capitol parachute demonstration was momentarily evacuated Wednesday evening after authorities identified an aircraft as posing a “possible threat” — but the plane was really carrying soldiers of the United States Army Golden Knights, who later parachuted onto Nationals Park for a pregame display.
Around 6:30 p.m., the US Capitol Police issued a warning, sending congressional staffers from the Capitol and legislative complex.
The episode showed a spectacular communication breakdown between the military and Capitol Police, which was all the more astounding given Washington’s attention on security since the January 6, 2021, attack on the building by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
In a statement released Wednesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed the FAA, saying the agency’s “apparent failure to alert Capitol Police about the pre-planned flyover Nationals Stadium is outrageous and unforgivable.” A request for comment from the FAA was not returned.
Hundreds of pro-Trump rioters rushed past overwhelmed police officers, broke through windows and doors, and ransacked the Capitol as Congress was voting to recognise Joe Biden’s electoral victory more than a year ago, leaving many on Capitol Hill on edge parachute demonstration.
The plane, a twin-engine plane, had taken off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and was circling inside severely restricted airspace near the Capitol when the alarm was sent on Wednesday. The plane, a De Havilland Twin Otter, stayed clear of the banned area over the Capitol Building and other federal structures at all times, according to radar tracking data. The army plane can be heard coordinating its flight with the control tower at neighbouring Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on air traffic control records.
Two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that investigators were still trying to figure out why the event wasn’t properly coordinated with law enforcement officials in Washington. As the plane flew overhead, officials from various federal agencies began scurrying.
Several surface-to-air missile sites, as well as military aircrews on round-the-clock alert, protect the capital region. None of those systems appeared to have been tampered with.
According to the persons, officials suspect the pilot may not have properly reported taking off or had appropriate clearance based on a preliminary examination. They were not permitted to speak publicly about the situation and spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
“Congress looks forward to studying the results of a comprehensive after-action assessment that reveals exactly what went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this terrible and terrifying mistake,” Pelosi said.
After the parachute demonstration down into the middle of the field at Nationals Park, the plane returned to Andrews around 6:50 p.m. The stadium, which is home to the Washington Nationals baseball team, is about a mile from the United States Capitol.
Eireann Dolan, the wife of Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, was one among those who witnessed the mayhem at the Capitol.
Dolan tweeted, “I was walking the dogs past the Dirksen Senate Office Building.” “All of a sudden, people started pouring out.” They instructed me to turn around and flee as quickly as possible. Some folks appeared to be calm, but many others appeared to be terrified. “I was certain I was.”
The Capitol complex’s buildings reopened just after 8 p.m.