The errant pilot who triggered an evacuation of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday has more than two decades of experience and has flown for a plastics company for six years, his wife said yesterday.
Scott Murwin, 52, of Athens, Ga., caused a brief scare when he flew into restricted airspace in the Washington area. His plane was intercepted by fighter jets, marking the second time in about six weeks that a pilot's actions caused a disruption at the Capitol.
Murwin's wife, Debbie, said in a telephone interview that her husband suggested that he may have misjudged the altitude at which he was flying. Had the Beech King Air 350 been at an altitude of 18,000 feet or more, aviation officials said, the flight restrictions would not have applied.
Aviation and Department of Homeland Security officials are trying to determine why Murwin did not follow the flight plan he filed to travel from Delaware, where he had dropped two people off at a conference, to Defiance, Ohio, near Toledo. U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrence W. Gainer said he was told by officials involved in the investigation that Murwin was trying to avoid a storm system that was sweeping through the region.
Murwin is certified as a commercial pilot and a flight instructor. He is licensed to fly single- or multi-engine planes, as well as seaplanes, records from the Federal Aviation Administration show.
A spokesman for Standridge Color Corp., which makes plastic concentrate and sells it to manufacturers, said Murwin was flying one of the company's three small planes when the trouble occurred. "He was just wrong place, wrong time," said spokesman Jimmy Hogg.
Aviation officials said Murwin's twin-engine, propeller-driven plane was intercepted shortly before 6:30 p.m., after it passed through an outer part of Washington's restricted airspace and entered a more highly restricted area. The plane was diverted to Winchester, Va., and the Capitol's evacuation was called off.
After being questioned, Murwin was back in Georgia yesterday, his wife said, but not available for comment. Aviation officials said an investigation would determine what sanctions, if any, he would receive.
In the earlier scare, on May 11, a Cessna strayed into restricted airspace at noontime. The plane initially failed to respond to flares launched by fighter jets or hand signals from Black Hawk helicopter crews.
D.C. officials, who were not initially notified during the May 11 incident, said they were told about the plane promptly Wednesday night -- but were not told that the Capitol was being evacuated and that the streets around it and the White House were being closed. Such information, spokesman Vincent Morris said, is crucial.
"The decisions that are made by the Capitol Police ripple outward to the entire city," Morris said.
Staff writers Sari Horwitz and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.