The US Capitol was briefly evacuated Wednesday after authorities sounded a threat alarm over a harmless parachute stunt, prompting top lawmaker Nancy Pelosi to blast aviation officials for an inexcusable failure.
A security officer who was responsible for protecting the complex at the heart of the US government in Washington issued an initial statement shortly after 6: 30 pm, 2230 GMT, saying they had ordered an evacuation as they were tracking an aircraft that poses a possible threat. They didn't give any more details. The mini-crisis was triggered by a pre-planned flyover at Nationals Stadium.
The news became a top headline within a few minutes in the United States where the memories of September 11, 2001 attacks - which saw Al Qaeda fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington - and the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by protesters are still poignant.
The US Capitol Police issued a second statement saying that the order had been given out of an abundance of caution, that there was no threat to the complex and that buildings had been reopened for use.
Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate, the chambers of Congress in the Capitol, were in session at the time of the scare.
The enranged Speaker of the House Pelosi, who fired off a withering statement shortly after the evacuation order was lifted, blasting the Federal Aviation Administration over the apparent misunderstanding.
Pelosi said that the FAA's failure to notify Capitol police of the planned flyover was outrageous and inexcusable.
She said that Congress would review what exactly went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake because of the unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence. Pelosi said there was no immediate explanation for the order, but Pelosi was clear that it came after a parachute display that was part of a baseball pregame show for Military Appreciation Night at Nationals Stadium.
Garrett Haake, NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent, said he had just watched some people parachute down near the US Capitol amid an evacuation order. NBC, citing police, said they were part of a demonstration by the Golden Knights at the stadium. The Golden Knights are the official US Army aerial parachute demonstration team.
They might not have told the Capitol Police they were in the airspace. One officer said she saw a small plane appear to circle before the chuters jumped, Haake tweeted.
The stadium is located about 1.5 miles and 2.5 kilometers from the Capitol. The Nationals were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks there Wednesday.
The US Capitol was the scene of an actual attack just 15 months ago when supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building in an effort to stop certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory.
The warning was issued despite Wednesday's scare being a false alarm, but lawmakers and visitors were shaken by it.
We just went through a very stressful 15 minutes, but we are thankful that everyone is safe, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez said on Twitter.
CNN's congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles said he was among those evacuated, and that it was pretty frantic for a good 15 minutes. Capitol Police were not messing around getting people out, he tweeted. The alarms were loud and intense.
Two young Swiss tourists visiting Washington said they were walking towards the historic white domed Capitol to take a tour when police waved them away from the structure.
They shut the security barriers behind us. They didn't tell us why and I thought it was better not to ask, one of the tourists who asked not to be named, told AFP.