Washington, Nov. 20 (Reuters): A “blip” on a radar screen, rather than a plane, sent scores of White House staff and tourists fleeing the executive mansion today in fear of another September 11-style attack on the US capital.
Two Air Force F-16 fighters were scrambled to secure the air space over the White House and Vice-President Dick Cheney was whisked away in a motorcade to an undisclosed site.
Secret service agents, some with shotguns drawn, hustled other senior staff members and visiting school children away from the White House and adjacent offices before the incident was determined to be a false alarm.
US President George W. Bush was in Britain at the time, and his staff returned to work in the White House complex shortly after the evacuation ended.
US stocks slumped during the brief security scare. “There was never a plane. It was a blip on one radar,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler.
The Secret Service said it followed normal procedures by initiating an evacuation at 9.20 am EST (1420 GMT) after receiving reports of a “violation of the flight restricted zone” around the White House.
Air space over the nation’s capital has been restricted for years but the off-limits area was expanded after the September 11 attacks.