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Capitol evacuated, Bush relocated in security scare

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Capitol was briefly evacuated, and President George W. Bush temporarily relocated, after a twin-engine plane strayed into restricted airspace around Washington Wednesday evening, authorities said.

"It appeared the aircraft was not deviating from its course and was approaching downtown D.C.," U.S. Park Police spokesman Michael Lauer said.

Lawmakers cleared the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but authorities allowed people to return to the building within a few minutes of the alert after determining the pilot posed no threat.

An e-mail sent to Senate leaders from Capitol Police said that "an unidentified incoming aircraft" triggered the alert. The White House was not evacuated, but Bush was hustled to a secure location "very briefly" when the executive mansion's threat level was raised for a short period, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

McClellan said the White House and Capitol officials make their own decisions on when to evacuate and when to activate the alert system.

The pilot was bound from Wilmington, Del., to Defiance, Ohio. He told authorities he entered the restricted area to avoid bad weather, a Department of Homeland Security official told CNN.

Fighter jets and a plane from the Customs and Border Protection Agency scrambled to intercept the twin-engine plane, a Beechcraft King Air, when it strayed into restricted airspace about 6:18 p.m., said Yolanda Clark, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The pilot was already turning west, away from the Capitol, when intercepted, the Homeland Security official said. The plane was diverted to Virginia's Winchester Regional Airport, where the pilot was questioned by the Secret Service and customs officials.

Airspace over the nation's capital has been tightly restricted since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and small planes have triggered a series of security alerts in the following years, including two last month.

The plane that triggered an evacuation of the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court on May 11 came closer than the aircraft involved in Wednesday's incident, Lauer said.

The Homeland Security official said aircraft routinely cross into restricted airspace around Washington -- three times on Wednesday alone -- but most aircraft are quickly warned away.

CNN correspondents Jeanne Meserve, Ed Henry and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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