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Intruding pilots released without charges

Prompted red alert at White House, mass evacuations

The Cessna was forced to land by military aircraft after it entered restricted air space.
A top Pentagon official on making the decision to shoot down a plane.

The response following the D.C. airspace security breach.

Key buildings evacuated as plane enters restricted airspace.
start quoteThey said, 'Get out of here.' So I ran. There's no joking about this kind of stuff.end quote
-- Sen. Richard Shelby
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White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A pilot and a student pilot were released without criminal charges Wednesday after their plane flew within three miles of the White House, prompting evacuations throughout the capital, officials said.

A Black Hawk helicopter and two F-16 fighter jets forced the Cessna 150 aircraft to land at a small airport in Frederick, Maryland at 12:37 p.m., officials said.

Law enforcement officials identified the men aboard the plane as Jim Sheaffer, the pilot, and Troy Martin, a student pilot. They were taken into custody by Maryland state police and turned over to FBI and Secret Service agents for questioning.

Sheaffer and Martin are members of the Pennsylvania-based Vintage Aero Club, said John Henderson, another club member. The club is the plane's registered owner in FAA records.

They took off from a small airport in Smoketown, Pennsylvania, and were on their way to an air show in North Carolina when they flew into the restricted airspace, Henderson said.

He added he's sure the breach was accidental and that they meant no harm. Federal officials said it's not believed they ever posed any kind of threat.

The men still could face civil action by the FAA, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN.

That could include license suspensions and civil penalties up to $1,100 per violation, such as entering restricted airspace, failing to respond to communications, and failing to be properly informed of flight restrictions.

Red alert at White House

As the plane approached, authorities evacuated the White House and other federal buildings.

"Run, this is no joke, leave the grounds," a Secret Service agent told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

President Bush was not at the White House at the time, but first lady Laura Bush and former first lady Nancy Reagan -- who was in town for a tribute -- were inside the residence and were moved to a secure location.

Vice President Dick Cheney was in the West Wing of the White House when the alert sounded and was hustled to a secure location away from Pennsylvania Avenue, White House officials said.

At the time, the president was taking a bike ride with a security detail near Waldorf, Maryland, officials said. He returned to the White House more than an hour later.

At the Capitol members of the House and Senate were evacuated while in session.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Capitol Police "pulled me out of my shoes" when they whisked the leadership off to a secure location.

At the Supreme Court building at least four justices were taken to a secure location along with all other staff, court sources said. Tourists were told to leave.

The Pentagon -- where both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were working -- was not evacuated.

No official notification was given to the Pentagon's 24,000 workers until after the "all clear" was given, but most were aware of the incident because cable television news channels are routinely on in many offices.

Pentagon officials did not provide an immediate explanation for the decision not to evacuate the building, which was hit September 11, 2001.

For eight minutes, the alert level for the White House was raised to red, the highest level of the color-coded threat alert system, after the pilot failed to respond to attempts to contact him by radio, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Only when the plane turned west did the White House alert level return to yellow alert, he said, and the "all-clear" sounded three minutes later. (Timeline)

The White House alert system predates -- and is separate from -- the Department of Homeland Security's threat system.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed that F-16s were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base. "The fighters dispensed four flares within restricted airspace to get the pilot's attention and then escorted the aircraft out of the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone)," according to NORAD.

Former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw, who lives in the area, said he saw two F-16 jets circle the single-engine plane and fire warning flares. The F-16s then appeared to direct the small aircraft away from the downtown area, Shaw said.

CNN's Joe Johns, Kelli Arena and Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.

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