The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday apologized for its failure to notify Capitol Police about a parachute stunt at Nationals Park that led to an urgent evacuation of the U.S. Capitol.
"The FAA’s initial review of the circumstances surrounding Wednesday night’s parachute demonstration by the U.S. Army Golden Knights at Nationals Park showed that we did not provide advance notification of this event to the U.S. Capitol Police," the FAA said in a statement. "We deeply regret that we contributed to a precautionary evacuation of the Capitol complex and apologize for the disruption and fear experienced by those who work there."
The police alert about the plane, which was transporting members of the Golden Knights who later parachuted into Nationals Park for Military Appreciation Night, sent congressional staffers fleeing the Capitol and legislative buildings on Wednesday evening.
The incident was a stunning communications failure, all the more remarkable because of Washington’s focus on improving security since the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
Capitol Police on Thursday called the decision not to alert the force “extremely unusual,” and said officers followed the policies and procedures necessary to ensure the safety of congressional staff.
“The United States Capitol Police must make split-second decisions that could make the difference between life and death,” the Capitol Police statement said. “The decision to evacuate the campus is not one we take lightly.”
In Wednesday's incident, the aircraft, a twin-engine plane, took off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and had been circling inside heavily restricted airspace close to the Capitol when the alert was sent. Radar tracking data shows the plane, a De Havilland Twin Otter, remained clear of the prohibited airspace over the Capitol building and other government complexes at all times. Air traffic control recordings capture the army plane coordinating its flight with the control tower at nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
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The plane landed back at Andrews around 6:50 p.m. after the parachutists descended into the middle of the field at Nationals Park, a little more than 1 mile (1.61 kilometers) from the U.S. Capitol.
One witness to the chaos at the Capitol was Eireann Dolan, the wife of Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle. “I was walking the dogs past the Dirksen Senate Office Building," Dolan tweeted. ”People started streaming out all at once. They told me to turn around and get away as fast as possible. Some people were calm but many were genuinely panicked. I know I was."
Buildings on the Capitol complex were reopened a little after 8 p.m.
The Washington Nationals lost the game to the Arizona Diamondbacks 11-2.