Friday, May 08, 2009
In a letter to Sen. John McCain, Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed details of the Air Force One flyover that sparked panic in New York City and led to the expected release Friday of a photo showing the mission.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review of notification procedures for high-visibility "training events" such as the Air Force One photo shoot that flew over the Manhattan skyline last month, striking fear in the hearts of New Yorkers.
In a letter responding to a request by Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates wrote that he was concerned that the public had not been adequately informed about the flyover, a picture of which is expected to be released Friday by the White House.
"I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and (Department of Defense) officials," Gates wrote in the letter dated Tuesday and later obtained by FOX News.
Participants on the flight included one combat photographer, a standard crew complement for Air Force One and the two F-16s that accompanied it and no non-duty personnel or extra passengers, Gates wrote.
Gates wrote the mission was planned in late March 2009 and was coordinated by the White House Military Office's Presidential Airlift Unit, which is an Air Force unit; Federal Aviation Administration liaisons; a Systems Operations Security team; traffic managers; New York air traffic control representatives and Newark and LaGuardia tower supervisors.
Gates wrote the FAA notified several agencies on April 24, 2009, about the impending event, including the U.S. Park Police, the New York City mayor's office, the New York City Office of Emergency Management, New York City Police Department Operations, New Jersey State Police Regional Coordination Center and New Jersey area emergency operations centers in Newark, Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken and Elizabeth.
The plane flew at FAA-approved altitude, according to the defense secretary. In conjunction with the photo shoot, the pilots also practiced instrument approaches and landings at Atlantic City International Airport, an approved training location.
The April 27 flyover sparked chaos in the city since the public, and even Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had not been notified it would take place. Thousands of New Yorkers, reminded of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, quickly evacuated office buildings and emergency call centers were inundated.
"The reaction to the low-flying VC-25 and F-16 fighter aircraft over New York City (NYC) is understandable, and we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission," Gates wrote.
A day after the flight, President Obama denounced the photo-op, which cost $328,835, calling it "a mistake." The head of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, who coordinated the flight mission, also apologized for the incident.
Earlier this week, the Obama administration did an about-face when it first announced it would not release any pictures of the flyover even though officials said the whole reason for it was to take publicity photos and give pilots some flying time. The next day Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said a photo would be forthcoming.
Gates wrote that he was also concerned that an Air National Guard aircraft was used in the mission.
"I have asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure that the Military Service and National Guard Bureau procedures for such activities include appropriate safeguards, checks and balances to ensure missions of this type are properly reviewed, vetted and announced in the future," he wrote.
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