Air Force One Photo Op Triggers Panic in Manhattan

NYC Mayor Bloomberg blasts flyover as "insensitive"; White House apologizes.

April 27, 2009, 11:37 AM

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."

Click here to watch Bloomberg and Gibbs speak about the flyover.

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 that they were "shocked" and "running scared" when the planes flew overhead.

Click here to look at photos sent in by readers.

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!"

Back Up Presidential Plane

According to officials, the flight -- authorized by the FAA -- came in as low as 1000 feet to 150 feet above the city as it made a large circle over Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey. The plane used was the back up presidential plane.

Self-evacuations of buildings in lower Manhattan and New Jersey, including the New York Mercantile Exchange, took place during the fly over.

According to multiple agencies, they were notified of the flyover last week, however the general public was not notified.

The Defense Department conducted the photo opportunity over the Hudson River. The planes flew over Lower Manhattan and in the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty during a 15 minute, pre-planned flight.

Local authorities were told not to disclose information about this morning's flyover, the New York City Police Department said in a statement.

"The flight of a VC-25 aircraft (the military version of the 747) and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the FAA for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the FAA Air Traffic Security Coordinator," police said.

Other officials noted that they were led to believe the flight would be limited to the area near the Statue of Liberty, however the flight pattern was above a much larger portion of New York and at an extremely low altitude.

Dan Matlack, in Jersey City, NJ across from Manhattan, said people were running to get away, with flashbacks to 9-11.

The plane was "really close to the ground and banking hard and 'seemed' like it was heading for the Goldman Sachs building in [Jersey City] to us on the ground," Matlack told

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said the flyover "borders on being cruel or very, very stupid."

After 9-11, he said, 'If you're going to see large jets flying low over New York City, people are going to panic."

Megan Chuchmach and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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