WASHINGTON (AP) – A small, single-engine plane strayed into restricted air space near the U.S. Capitol on Friday, forcing anxious officials to place the White House in temporary lockdown and take steps to evacuate the U.S. Capitol.

The episode was over within minutes as two F-16 fighter jets and two Coast Guard helicopters were dispatched to intercept the plane and escort it to an airport in Maryland, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman Michael Kucharek said the two helicopters established communications with the pilot.

The owner of the Indian Head Airport in Charles County, Md., said the pilot and his wife were en route from Maine to North Carolina to visit the couple’s daughter. Owner Gil Bauserman said a technology problem on the Cessna 180, rather than anything nefarious, forced the plane to enter restricted air space, prompting the swift military response.

“It was just a navigation mistake, the GPS went and the pilot got confused,” Bauserman said in an interview with The Associated Press. The airport owner identified the pilot as William Wales.

“This has happened many times. The restricted zone in D.C., all it does is catch poor innocent people. They’ve never caught a terrorist, it’s just people making a mistake,” he said.

Secret Service questioned the shaken pilot in one of the hangers.

“When F-16s showed up on this guy’s wings, he was scared to death,” Bauserman said.

The military notified the airport that the plane would be making an unscheduled landing at 12:45 p.m. EDT, according to Bauserman. The plane landed 15 minutes later, escorted by the F-16s and the helicopters. Kucharek said there was a second plane that nicked restricted air space, but it landed before military jets were launched.

The White House said President Barack Obama was “briefly relocated” during the incident, but declined to say where he was taken.

The Senate was in session, and briefly recessed. The House was not meeting.

Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the security measures were taken “out of an abundance of caution.”

Authorities have been on high alert for planes entering air space in and around major government buildings since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

FAA figures show that since then aircraft have entered restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., roughly twice a day.

In June 2004, a small plane carrying then-Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher entered restricted air space as the Capitol prepared for the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan. In May 2005, an amateur pilot accidentally flew into prohibited space. There was another brief evacuation of the Capitol a month later, again when a small plane entered restricted air space.

While security was tightened after 2001, flying near the White House and Capitol has long been restricted and occasional incidents have occurred. On Feb. 17, 1974, a stolen military helicopter was shot down on the White House lawn by the Executive Protective Service. President Richard Nixon was in Florida at the time.

Associated Press writers Jim Abrams, Lolita C. Baldor, Randolph Schmid and Pamela Hess in Washington and Brett Zongker in Maryland contributed to this report.

AP-ES-04-24-09 1622EDT

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