Click to view image: '3d826b401cd1-hudson480.jpg'Updated, 11:59 a.m. | An Air Force One lookalike, the backup plane for the one regularly used by the president, flew low over Manhattan on Monday morning, accompanied by two F-16 fighters, so Air Force photographers could take pictures. But a lack of awareness about the flyover led to the evacuation of several buildings in Lower Manhattan and Jersey City, and perplexed officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and other authorities were inundated with calls from anxious ferry passengers, office workers and residents.
Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said “the photo op was approved and coordinated with everyone.” Notification was made in advance to the mayor’s office, “including its 911 and 311 operation centers,” the New York City Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, the United States Park Police and other agencies, he said.
Later on Monday morning, the Police Department acknowledged that it had been notified about the event but said it had been barred from alerting the public. “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.
The event was scheduled for 10 to 10:30 a.m. The plane is designated by the Defense Department as a VC-25 but is recognizable to the public as a Boeing 747.
Unaware of the planned exercise, scores of office workers flooded out of buildings, worried about the prospect of terrorism.
“People came pouring out of the buildings, the American Express Building, all the buildings in the financial district by the water,” said Edward Acker, a photographer who was at the building, 3 World Financial Center. “And even the construction guys over by 100 North End Avenue area, they all got out of their buildings. Nobody knew about it. Finally some guy showed up with a little megaphone to tell everyone it was a test, but the people were not happy. The people who were here 9/11 were not happy.”
Mr. Acker added: “New York City police were standing right there and they had no knowledge of it. The evacuations were spontaneous. Guys from the floor came out, and one guy I talked to was just shaking.”
Even the markets dipped shortly after 10 a.m., though it was unclear if the alarm over the planes was a factor. Starting at 10:02 a.m., three main market indexes started dropping precipitously. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 40 points in 10 minutes, starting 10:15 a.m., before it rebounded more than 50 points.
In Jersey City, construction workers were evacuated from a condominium tower under construction at 77 Hudson Street.
The workers, who were on the 32nd floor of the construction site, said the plane circled three times past the Goldman Sachs tower, the tallest building in New Jersey. On the second pass, they said, the jet appeared to be only a few dozen feet from the building — close enough to clip the side of the skyscraper. A fighter followed right behind, mirroring its moves.
The construction site as were other buildings in downtown Jersey City, including offices in the Exchange Place financial complex.
Carlina Rivera, 25, who works at Kaplan K12 Learning Services, on the 22nd floor of 1 Liberty Plaza, said her co-workers were spooked in part because their offices are so close to the site of the 9/11 attack. “As soon as someone saw how close it got to the buildings, people literally ran out,” she said. “Probably about 80 percent of my office left within two minutes of seeing how close it got to our building.”
Ms. Rivera, who was a high school student in the East Village when the 9/11 attack occurred, added, “I did feel a little bit foolish for staying in the office while everyone left.”
Ms. Rivera said eventually there was a message made over the public announcement system that the plane was an advertisement for a movie — which she said that did not coincide with what they were reading online about the plane taking pictures of the Statue of Liberty. “It was a little confusing. What was the truth?” she said.
Ms. Rivera continued: “Of course, everyone had to take out their cellphones and say, ‘You can come back, it’s O.K.’ Eventually they returned with some sort of comfort food. We feel like we should have at least been warned.”
At 1 Liberty Plaza, according to another person who works in Lower Manhattan, a loudspeaker announcement said at 10:55 a.m., “Planes were observed flying low over Lower Manhattan, but were part of an approved federal action.”
Notify NYC, a pilot electronic service intended to quickly provide emergency alerts to New Yorkers who sign up for them, did not prove particularly effective.
Text messages and e-mail messages explaining the flyover were sent out at 10:38 a.m., after the exercise was already scheduled to end. “The community was startled, and would have preferred advance warning,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, vice chairwoman of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which runs the region’s three major airports, said the low-flying planes prompted confusion. “This has nothing to do with any of our airports,” he added.
The Staten Island Advance reported that the Federal Aviation Administration had authorized the flights and that the flights were “pre-planned.”
President Obama was not aboard the plane, nor was he in the New York area. He gave a speech at 9 a.m. at the National Academy of Sciences in downtown Washington.
It was not the first time that authorized flyovers had left anxiety in Lower Manhattan.
In February 2002, two Air Force F-16 fighters flew low over Manhattan as they made their way back to Atlantic City after a regular patrol. Officials later acknowledged that “the timing and location” of the flyover were “poorly coordinated.”
Tags: New York Panic, False Alarm, Terrorism, National Emergency Scare
Location: New York, New York, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved, featured
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