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Air Force One photo op panics NYC - finger-pointing begins

By Jimmy Orr / April 27, 2009

In this image taken with a cell phone, the primary presidential aircraft, a Boeing 747 known as Air Force One when the president is aboard, flies low over New York Harbor, followed by an F-16 chase plane during a federal government photo op on Monday. A low-flying Boeing 747 escorted by two fighter jets as part of a federal government photo opportunity over lower Manhattan caused a brief panic among workers near ground zero on Monday.

JASON MCLANE/AP

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Of course no one is taking responsibility for this. Who would want their name on this public relations fiasco?

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Following an astonishing decision to let a Boeing 747 buzz the Manhattan skyline this morning without informing the public, you get what you typically expect from government when a mistake is made: not my fault.

9/11

Bringing back memories of September 11 to New York City residents, entire buildings were evacuated after -- what turned out to be one of President Obama's planes -- swooped low over the Statue of Liberty into lower Manhattan on Monday morning. The 747 was escorted by two F-16 fighter jets.

Sounds somewhat similar to the hapless single engine pilot who accidentally strayed into restricted airspace in Washington, DC last Friday. Except that was an accident. This was an "approved activity." Except no one told the public it was going to happen.

Panic

John Leitner, a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange Building, told the Associated Press that about 1,000 people "went into a total panic" and ran out of the building around 10 a.m. after seeing the planes whiz by their building, near the World Trade Center site.

"Apparently, nobody in the building was informed that this was going to happen," he said. "Everyone panicked, as you can certainly understand."

It's easy to understand why there would be panic. It's astonishing that nobody thought the public ought to have a heads up.

A what?

So what kind of an approved activity was it? A photo op. A photo op involving one of the planes that serves as Air Force One.

Details on the photo shoot -- except that it caused mass panic -- aren't known yet. What is known is that everyone, save the public, knew about it.

Approved

An FAA spokesman told the New York Times that "the photo op was approved and coordinated with everyone."

He said the mayor's office, the Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, the US Park Police, and 911 were all aware of it.

Shhhhh

The NYPD acknowledged that they were aware of it but said the FAA told them not to talk about it.

“The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. 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 F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator,” the Police Department said in a statement.

What?

And the Department of Defense released a statement that could generously be called jibberish.

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