US Capitol evacuation over false alarm provokes fear, fury
An aircraft that "poses a probable threat" was tracked.
The US Capitol was briefly evacuated on Wednesday when authorities issued a threat alert over a trivial parachute act, causing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to chastise aviation officials for an "inexcusable" failure.
Police responsible for securing the complex at the heart of the US government in Washington released an initial statement just after 6:30 pm (2230 GMT), stating that they had ordered an evacuation due to "tracking an aircraft that poses a probable threat."
They did not provide any other information. The mini-crisis, however, was caused by a pre-planned flyover at adjacent Nationals Stadium.
The news quickly became a top headline in the United States, where memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which Al-Qaeda flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, and the January 6, 2021 protesters storming of the Capitol are still fresh.
US Capitol Police quickly issued a second statement, stating that the order was issued "out of an abundance of caution," that there was no longer a "danger" to the complex, and that facilities had reopened for usage.
At the time of the fear, neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate, the two chambers of Congress housed in the Capitol, were in session.
Read more: US Police: Bomb outside the Capitol
The event, however, enraged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who issued a scathing statement shortly after the evacuation order was rescinded, slamming the Federal Aviation Administration for the "misunderstanding".
The FAA's "apparent failure" to notify Capitol police of the planned flyover was "outrageous and inexcusable," Pelosi said.
"The unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence was particularly harmful" for those still facing trauma from the January 6 attack on the Capitol, she said, adding that Congress would review "what precisely went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake."
There was no apparent explanation for the order, but Pelosi made it clear that it was prompted by a parachute display during a baseball pregame entertainment at Nationals Stadium for "Military Appreciation Night."
Garrett Haake, NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent, tweeted, "Just observed some people parachute down over/near the US Capitol under an evacuation order."
You can pretty well hear the fury in @SpeakerPelosi’s statement tonight on the Golden Knights/ Capitol evacuation mess, calling the failure to notify the USCP an “outrageous and frightening mistake”: pic.twitter.com/9NWRKmk3Nj— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) April 21, 2022
According to NBC, they were part of a Golden Knights exhibition at the stadium. The Golden Knights are the official aerial parachute display squad of the United States Army.
"Seems they might not have told Capitol Police they'd be in the airspace. One officer here told me she saw the small plane appearing to circle before the parachuters jumped," Haake tweeted.
Just watched some people parachute down over/near the US Capitol amid an evacuation order. Trying to figure out where they landed.— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) April 20, 2022
The stadium is located approximately 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) from the Capitol. The Nationals faced the Arizona Diamondbacks there on Wednesday.
Just 15 months ago, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory.
Even though the panic on Wednesday was a hoax, politicians and visitors were frightened by it.
"We just went through a very stressful 15 minutes, but we are thankful that everyone is safe," congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez said on Twitter.
CNN's congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles said he was among those evacuated, and that "for a good 15 minutes it was pretty frantic."
"The alarms were loud and intense and Capitol Police were not messing around getting people out," he tweeted.
Two young Swiss tourists visiting Washington said they were on their way to the famous white-domed Capitol for a tour when police waved them away.
"They shut the security barriers behind us. They didn't tell us why and I thought it was better not to ask," one of the tourists, who asked not to be named, told AFP.