27 April 2009

Low-Flying Plane Over Manhattan Was a 'Photo Op'.

NYPD Says It Was Told Not to Disclose Flight Information.

A jumbo jetliner that serves as Air Force One, escorted by a military jet, flew over Lower Manhattan Monday morning, frightening office workers and causing evacuations in what turned out to be a publicity operation approved by a unit of the U.S. Air Force.

At around 10 a.m. EDT, a Boeing 747 was seen accompanied by an F-16 fighter jet flying low over the southern tip of Manhattan and at one point seen circling the Goldman Sachs Tower in nearby Jersey City, N.J.

The circling planes were part of a "photo op," a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.

The larger plane was one of two highly customized Boeing 747-200 series aircraft that serve as Air Force One when the commander in chief is on board. Technically, "Air Force One" is the call sign of any Air Force aircraft carrying the president. But President Barack Obama wasn't aboard the plane Monday.

The "aerial photo mission," conducted by the Air Force's Presidential Airlift Group, was supposed to be in the area of lower Manhattan and New Jersey for around 30 minutes.

It involved one 747 and one F-16 fighter jet, said Vicki Stein, an Air Force spokeswoman. "You would have to ask the White House the specifics on the mission," Ms. Stein said. The plane is part of the Air Force's Presidential Airlift Group, stationed at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base.

The New York City Police Department said Monday that the flight was authorized by the FAA for the vicinity "with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it," according to an email advisory from Paul J. Browne, deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

"You would have to ask the White House the specifics on the mission," said Vicki Stein, an Air Force spokeswoman.

The low-flying 747 sent workers worried about a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks fleeing their offices in the New York City area.

Traders bolted from the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange after seeing the jets. The exchange, which sits on the east bank of the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan and is blocks from the site of the terrorist-destroyed World Trade Center, didn't order an evacuation.

People trading oil, natural gas and other commodities on the Nymex floor apparently took no chances. A Nymex security official was "literally standing, holding his hands up in a calming gesture. Guys were running right past him," said Pete Donovan, a vice president at Vantage Trading in the crude-futures ring.

But several buildings in the area were ordered evacuated, although workers quickly returned after it became clear that the flyover was a planned event.

Lower Manhattan tenants and landlords said they weren't informed of the flyover until after it happened. A spokesman for World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, who owns several properties near the site of the 2001 attacks, said in an email that the firm got no information ahead of time.

Construction workers fled the 43-story headquarters for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., currently under construction across the street from the trade center site. Gia Moron, a spokeswoman for Goldman, one of the largest businesses in Lower Manhattan, said: "We did not receive a heads up. Our security officers were advised after it happened."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates bridges, tunnels and airports in the area, said initially the agency had no knowledge of the low-flying plane, according to a spokesman. But a Port Authority executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency was still investigating, said the Port Authority's security staff were told of the photo shoot at least by Monday morning and possibly as early as the weekend.


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