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The Nation

Grounded Pilots Made a Number of Mistakes

April 04, 2002|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Frontier Airlines flight crew that violated restricted airspace over Washington on Monday flew slightly west of the White House and the Washington Monument, then flew directly over the vice presidential residence on the Naval Observatory grounds while trying to get back on course, aviation sources said Wednesday.

Earlier that day, the same crew had been forced to land at Dulles International Airport after failing to properly give the password for permission to fly to its original destination, Reagan National Airport.

The crew's two pilots, who have not been identified, have been suspended pending an investigation by the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said three other commercial flights and a medical helicopter have violated White House airspace since Sept. 11, but none as deeply as the Frontier flight.

Officials, puzzling Wednesday over how one flight crew could make so many mistakes, said the incident involving Frontier Flight 724 points out both the strengths and weaknesses of flight security restrictions at National.

The Secret Service lobbied hard to keep National closed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, sources said, but President Bush decided otherwise after hearing from local officials about the devastating economic effect such a closing would have. Instead, new security measures were imposed, including more searches of passengers and baggage and special flight procedures.

Passengers aboard the inbound Frontier flight were never told why they were landing at Dulles. In fact, one passenger said that after landing, a flight attendant made an announcement welcoming the passengers to National.

"I knew it wasn't National," the passenger said.

The pilot then announced that the plane had been told to land at Dulles and said he didn't know why. The plane was surrounded by vehicles with flashing lights and was escorted to a secure area for unloading.

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