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Plane heading to Nationals Park parachute jump prompts Capitol evacuation

An all-clear was issued shortly after evacuation orders were issued

A member of the Golden Knights parachute team glides into Nationals Park before the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 20, 2022. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that the U.S. Capitol is south of Nationals Park. It is north of the ballpark. This article has been corrected.

An Army plane with a parachute team preparing to jump into Nationals Park as part of a pregame ceremony Wednesday evening triggered a threat alert and prompted authorities to briefly evacuate the U.S. Capitol complex, according to D.C. police.

An all-clear was quickly given, and six members of the Army’s Golden Knights landed safely on the outfield grass before the Nationals took on the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Six members of the Army’s Golden Knights parachuted into Nationals Park before the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals on April 20. (Video: Storyful)

The mix-up created an off-the-field scramble to determine how authorities apparently miscommunicated about the flight on Military Appreciation Night at the baseball game. Aircraft generally are restricted over the District, one of the nation’s most heavily guarded and controlled areas. Congress was not in session during the call for evacuation, which came after business hours.

Representatives of the Golden Knights could not be reached for comment. Nationals officials referred questions to the Federal Aviation Administration, which said in a statement: “The FAA takes its role in protecting the national airspace seriously and will conduct a thorough and expeditious review of the events this evening and share updates. We know our actions affect others, especially in our nation’s capital region, and we must communicate early and often with our law enforcement partners.”

Kelli LeGaspi, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said in a statement late Wednesday that the Army is “reviewing all aspects of the event to ensure all procedures were followed appropriately to coordinate both the flight and the parachute demonstration. We will not comment further until we are able to determine the facts of the situation.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blamed the FAA’s “apparent failure to notify” U.S. Capitol Police about the flight and said it caused “unnecessary panic” for lawmakers and staff still traumatized by the violent Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

In a statement, Pelosi praised Capitol Police for “vigilantly monitoring” for a potential threat and quickly reacting. She called the failure to notify the police department “inexcusable.”

Pelosi said Congress will look at the results of a “thorough after-action review” to determine “what precisely went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake.”

D.C. police spokeswoman Brianna Burch first confirmed that the alarm was caused by the Golden Knights plane headed to Nationals Park, based on information from the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The Capitol Police sent an urgent alert at 6:32 p.m. to evacuate the Capitol building and several others, including the visitor center, House and Senate office complexes, the Library of Congress, and the Botanic Garden’s administrative offices and conservatory. The parachute jump occurred about 6:40 p.m.

At 6:48 p.m., the Capitol Police tweeted: “The Capitol was evacuated out of an abundance of caution this evening. There is no threat at the Capitol.”

The agency did not provide additional details, but by then six members of the Golden Knights had successfully dropped from the plane into the ballpark, a demonstration that took six minutes to complete and drew cheers from a scattered crowd. The Capitol is about a mile north of the stadium.

According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, the de Havilland Canada Twin Otter turboprop departed Joint Base Andrews at 6:09 p.m. and returned 41 minutes later. The plane reached an altitude surpassing 3,400 feet and a speed exceeding 140 mph.

The Golden Knights are one of three military demonstration teams, along with the Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds. Their website says they have nearly 100 members and five aircraft that perform at more than 100 events each year.

Jasmine Hilton, Mike DeBonis, Jesse Dougherty, Michael Laris and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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