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

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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

"In coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Presidential Airlift Group conducted a aerial photo mission in the New York City area on 27 Apr 2009. This mission, involving the VC-25 and an F-16, was conducted in conjunction with normally scheduled continuation training for assigned aircrew members. This mission was coordinated for the Upper New York Bay, south of the Holland Tunnel and in the Newark Bay north of the Staten Island Expressway between the hours of 1000L and 1030L."


Sources at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told the Wall Street Journal that they received a memo telling them to keep the mission quiet.

"Information in this document shall not be released to the public or media," the memo instructed. "Public affairs posture for this effort is passive."

Oh yeah...

And, not for nothing, the City sent out a statement after the event informing the media that the photo op was "part of an approved federal activity."

Although part of the City was aware of it, the guy in charge was apparently kept in the dark. Mayor Bloomberg said he was "furious" that he wasn't told about it.

"Why the Defense department wanted to do a photo op right around the World Trade Center catastrophe defies imagination," he said.

New York Senator Chuck Shumer agreed. "This was a photo shoot. There was no need for surprise. There was no need to scare thousands of New Yorkers who still have the vivid memory of 9/11," he said.

The president's Press Secretary seemed to be taken off-guard when asked about the incident at his press briefing. Stammering through a response where he told reporters to call the FAA, Air Force, or the White House Military Office, MSNBC's Chuck Todd told him it was "odd that he didn't have a response as it was the president's aircraft."

"You might be surprised to know that I don't know every movement of Air Force One, but I will ask..."


If you think New Yorkers are upset about it, you'd be correct. Look at some of the reaction on Twitter...

RositaCortez isn't happy: This is not funny: We still remember 911 & this is not acceptable.

Jonsamsel wants some accountability. Air Force One Photo Opp Triggers Panic in Manhattan - Seem Terribly Irresponsible - Who Made This Stupid Decision?

Kevindepew asks: DoD surprised that two F-16s chasing Air Force One around Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan might startle us?

citycynic wonders: So why does Air Force One need to do a photoshoot anyway?


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