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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Details of Last Night's Violation of White House Airspace Emerge

Aired June 20, 2002 - 11:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news happening right now. We've got a development to a story we covered yesterday. The story about the violation of the airspace over the White House. Our Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon with the latest development on that story. Barbara, what's the word?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi there, Leon.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre and I have been given some details. We have learned some details of the timeline of exactly what happened last night when this small plane flew by the White House. And it's really quite something as to how fast events moved and how close and how dangerous this situation might have become.

Let's walk everybody through the timeline, as we now understand it. The plane, this small Cessna, first entered restricted airspace in Washington at 7:59 last evening. At 8:03, just four minutes later, the FAA called NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which patrols the skies for just this sort of problem. It is believed that NORAD actually learned of this shortly after the White House did, that the FAA called the White House first.

That was at 8:03. One minute later, the Cessna entered prohibited airspace, very, very heavily restricted airspace around the White House in downtown Washington. Two minutes later, at 8:06, two F-16s from nearby Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland are scrambled. They are ordered to get into the air at 8:06, but essentially at this point, the Cessna had already reached its closest point to the White House, perhaps within two miles of the White House.

Now, those F-16s were on 15-minute strip alert out of Andrews. That meant they were supposed to be in the air within 15 minutes of being notified. And what we have learned is that indeed they were in the air within 14 minutes of being notified. They were at flight at 8:17 last night, but it was already too late. That small Cessna had already passed by the White House.

So the system worked as it was supposed to, but what we have learned from this timeline is that maybe the system may not be good enough. This plane was very close and flew right by the White House airspace before the military even had a chance to get to it, but the military did meet the requirements as they now stand. Now, as one official told us earlier today, there's only two solutions to this problem. Either a bigger buffer zone around the White House, more restricted airspace, or air patrols over the White House 24 hours a day -- Leon.

HARRIS: Wow. That's startling. That is startling news. Barbara Star at the Pentagon. Thank you very much. Of course, we'll talk some more about that throughout the day here on CNN.

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