Capitol Police, Secret Service and Park Police were unaware of flyover at Nats Park

Federal Aviation Administration will also review the incident

A member of the Army's Golden Knights team parachutes into Nationals Park on Wednesday, an event that triggered an evacuation order from Capitol Police because of a perceived threat from the plane being in restricted airspace.  (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A member of the Army's Golden Knights team parachutes into Nationals Park on Wednesday, an event that triggered an evacuation order from Capitol Police because of a perceived threat from the plane being in restricted airspace. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Posted April 21, 2022 at 6:56pm

The Capitol Police, Park Police and Secret Service were not given advance notice of a Nationals Park military flyover Wednesday that led to an emergency evacuation of the Capitol complex, congressional stakeholders were told.

The incident, in which employees were told to evacuate buildings quickly and get blocks away for their safety, raises questions about communication shortfalls among partner agencies in the region as the issue of Capitol security is still being analyzed following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

A Capitol Police official told congressional officials in a statement obtained by CQ Roll Call that approved military flights — such as the single engine flyover by the Golden Knights parachute team for military appreciation night at the baseball game — are “always coordinated” and that notifications are made by the Federal Aviation Administration to “partnering agencies” and “placed on the active waiver board.”

"This did not occur for this flight," the Capitol Police official said, noting the three departments "were not notified in advance of this approved flight. The USCP will be working with our airspace partners to address the notification issues.”

Those on Capitol Hill were alarmed Wednesday when around 6:32 p.m., the Capitol Police announced it was tracking an aircraft that posed a "probable threat" to the campus and directed people to evacuate the Capitol along with Senate, House and other office buildings on the campus. By 6:49 p.m., the department said the complex was evacuated out of an abundance of caution and that there was no threat. An all-clear announcement followed around 8:07 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., assigned blame to the FAA in a sharp statement Wednesday night. She called the FAA’s “apparent failure” to tell the Capitol Police of the planned flyover “outrageous and inexcusable.”

Pelosi added there will be a thorough review into what went wrong.

“Congress looks forward to reviewing the results of a thorough after-action review that determines what precisely went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake,” Pelosi said.

Crystal Essiaw, a spokesperson for the FAA, said the agency will review the incident.

“The FAA takes its role in protecting the national airspace seriously and will conduct a thorough and expeditious review of the events yesterday and share updates,” Essiaw said. “We know our actions affect others, especially in our nation's capital region, and we must communicate early and often with our law enforcement partners.”

The Capitol Police said around 6:30 p.m. an unidentified plane was spotted within seconds of the Capitol and when it was determined the department did not have advance notice of the approved flight, officers followed policies and led everyone out of the congressional buildings.

“Every week the USCP is made aware of hundreds of authorized flights in the restricted airspace,” Tim Barber, a spokesperson for the department said. “It is extremely unusual not to be made aware of a flight in advance.”

The Secret Service and the Park Police each did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Pelosi said the incident caused “unnecessary panic” that was harmful for lawmakers and employees on the Hill who are still grappling with trauma from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

Staffers who spoke to CQ Roll Call said what happened Wednesday raises concerns about Capitol security.

“It does appear that the FAA dropped the ball,” a senior congressional aide said. “This does not help the USCP at a time when they're trying to earn a lot of their credibility back.”

Another senior staffer said, “It doesn’t seem like this was the Capitol Police’s fault, but I think a failure of communication of this magnitude — even after everything that’s happened over the last year or so — is very distressing. It certainly doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the underlying Capitol Security ecosystem.”

A third senior staffer said, “It’s alarming and I’m sure traumatizing to Capitol Police officers and staff who had to consider that a plane was heading to the Capitol.”

Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.