Fighter jets forced four small airplanes to land Monday after they strayed into restricted airspace during President Bush’s visit to Rancho Cucamonga, federal officials said.
Secret Service agents and local law enforcement officials detained and questioned at least three of the pilots, who were forced to land their private aircraft at airports in Corona, El Monte, Hawthorne and Hemet, said Lt. Jody Vazquez, spokeswoman for North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.
No arrests were made, but the Federal Aviation Administration will determine whether any of the pilots should face sanctions, Vazquez said.
As the president delivered remarks on Medicare and immigration, 30 nautical miles around Ontario International Airport and Rancho Cucamonga were off-limits to most planes except military, law enforcement, commercial and special FAA-approved aircraft, said FAA spokesman Donn Walker.
The undisclosed number of patrol F-16s shot two flares each across the nose of two of the planes to attract the pilots’ attention and force them to land, said Vazquez and Chris Butler, resident agent in charge for the Secret Service in Riverside.
The flares are “one way we can try to say, ‘Hey, look, you are not where you’re supposed to be,” said Vazquez, who added that several other aircraft entered the restricted zone but left immediately after the FAA contacted them.
The couple that landed at Corona Municipal Airport had been headed to Southern California from Northern California and were unaware of the flight advisory Monday, Butler said.
In another of the four incidents, Marcel Avery, 62, was flying his four-seat Cessna 182 from Hawthorne to Scottsdale, Ariz., when an F-16 appeared at his left side and waggled its wing at him twice, he said."I was very, very surprised to see an F-16 on my wing,” said Avery, a 30-year flying veteran who said he had carefully plotted his course with his flight instructor to avoid the restricted area.
The Manhattan Beach resident was grounded about two hours; Hemet police and an FBI agent made a copy of his pilot’s license and searched his plane."It was a bit confusing -- I didn’t really understand and think I should be [grounded],” Avery said.
“On the other hand, you don’t argue with the police, and you don’t argue with the FAA. They tell you to do something and you do it, or you suffer dire consequences.”
Two college students flying their father’s experimental aircraft had to land at El Monte Airport, Butler said.
“This seldom ever happens here in our city,” said Det. Ralph Batres of the El Monte Police Department.
The pilots entered the no-fly zone between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Monday, all cruising lower than 10,000 feet.
Although such flight infractions are common anywhere the president travels, NORAD treats “every instance very seriously and we always, from start to finish, [consider] that this could be a threat,” Vazquez said.