Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Straight Story

My friend who saw the low-flying plane over Washington last night was kind enough to email his full description of what exactly he witnessed. Note my original item was wrong about the time of the sighting:

As planes were belatedly descending into Ronald Reagan Airport at around 1:15 AM, all of a sudden a big plane appeared over the National Cathedral, banking slightly left and rapidly moving towards Massachusetts Avenue right in the direction towards the White House.

I could see that very clearly, since I was just going to write my daily memo to my editor, and my desk faces West/Northwest on 22nd Street in the direction of Cathedral Heights, on the uppermost (tenth) floor. It's a great view.

The plane descended further and banked to the right approximately over Kalorama, at about 150-200 yards altitude. I had already jumped to my feet and was leaning out the window, when the plane sharply and noisily accelerated, getting beyond my point of view over the rooftop of my building. It was either a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 321, most probably Boeing, and it was flying right over Mass Av/Phillips Collection at that point of time.

I ran onto my balcony, facing P looking south, expecting the plane coming into view again over Dupont Circle, but that did not happen. It had obviously turned northeast in a frenzied angle. I heard the noise fade and disappear quickly.

Guess the pilot had mistakenly followed Rock Creek Park Valley, thinking he'd been over the Potomac Valley all the time.

That plane came probably within mere seconds of being taken down with the missiles on top of the New Executive Building. This was the closest ever a low-flying big civil plane got to the White House thus far. Even on 9/11, the Pentagon plane was much farther away from it than this one.

1 comment:

arrScott said...

Still media silence on this. Hmmm. A couple of thoughts:

1. Given the hour, and the meteorological conditions, the writer's account is more consistent with mistaken perspective than with pilot error. Which is to say, it's more likely that the plane was much further away from the viewer than that the pilot, making an instrument approach through a storm at night, made a mistake of visual navigation in the continent's most restricted airspace. Then again, the less plausible case is often true. Has anyone asked the airline for comment? Was the president evacuated to White House bunker, or was he kept out of the loop on this one too?

2. Does the White House complex really have anti-aircraft missile sytems? If so, why? (And why did NORAD have to deploy anti-aircraft missiles to Washington on a temporary basis during the innauguration if there's a fixed system in place?) Does an anti-aircraft missile really deliver enough energy to redirect the forward momentum of an incoming aircraft or its debris? An incoming aircraft has a lot of mass moving at a high velicoty.That's a lot of energy, as we saw on Sept. 11. If you remove the aircraft's wings, it will lose lift and gravity will redirect the plane. But if we're not shooting down incoming planes over Kalorama, waiting until they get closer to the White House, then it seems likely that any shootdown would happen too close for a sudden loss of lift to redirect the aircraft, or its debris, away from the executive compound. Not that I know one way or another; I'm neither an engineer nor a soldier. I'm just curious whether such a system really exists and whether it is likely to succeed. Or is this one of those many Washington myths?