Air Force One Photo Op Triggers Panic in Manhattan
NYC Mayor Bloomberg blasts flyover as "insensitive"; White House apologizes.
April 27, 2009— -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is "furious" over a Department of Defense low-altitude flyover of NYC in the area around Ground Zero this morning, calling it "ill-conceived" and a "waste of taxpayers' money."
A photo shoot involving a 747 used as Air Force One and one fighter jet flying at low altitude led to hundreds of frightened calls from residents and workers in Lower Manhattan this morning, triggering memories of 9-11 as many evacuated their offices. The president was not aboard.
At a White House press briefing Monday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dodged questions about the flyover, even referring the media to the White House (that he represents).
Gibbs said he had no other information about the flyover other than news reports he had seen. "I was working on other things," Gibbs said. "You might be surprised to know I don't know every movement of Air Force One or what happens to it."
On Monday afternoon, the Director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, released a statement saying, "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."
A White House official told ABC News that President Obama was "furious" to hear about the plane incident. Caldera was called into a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.
"It didn't sound like a fun meeting," the White House official said.
Although the shoot was authorized, the normal system of public notification broke down, multiple officials said.
The DOD would not answer specific questions about the promotional flight.
Bloomberg said he was so furious he wasn't told about the photo op, that before he talked further to his own staff and agencies about the lack of notice to him, he wants "to calm down."
"Poor judgment would have been a nice way to put it," Bloomberg said of the government flyover.
A New York City employee has been disciplined for failing to pass on the FAA fly over information when it arrived on the employee's desk at City Hall.
According to city officials the employee was "reprimanded" and a "letter was placed in his file."
No information was immediately available on what if any discipline was meted out at the NYPD, where a second FAA notice was received last Thursday.
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"It scared a couple of million people," one airport official said.
Witnesses told ABCNews.com that they were "shocked" and "running scared" when the planes flew overhead.
Elena Zaccario, who works at an office building near Battery Park, said she was too startled to grab her camera until the planes' third fly-by.
"Needless to say, everyone was concerned and upset about not being notified like in previous 'military fly-overs,"" she said. "Other offices on other floors fled the building in panic. Not acceptable!"