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Pilot error triggers scramble in capital

WASHINGTON – A passenger plane briefly lost radio contact with air traffic controllers when the pilot turned to the wrong frequency as he approached Washington, leading to the scrambling of fighter jets and the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, federal officials said Saturday.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the agency is reviewing the “pilot readback error.” The loss of radio contact as the plane approached the nation’s capital also led officials to evacuate all House and Senate office buildings.

Piedmont Airlines Flight 4352 from Hilton Head, S.C., was on course for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport when it lost radio contact with air traffic controllers at a regional radar facility in Virginia for about 15 minutes, FAA officials said. The facility is responsible for handling the plane almost until the landing, when Reagan National takes over.

F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base, but the airliner was able to re-establish radio contact and it landed at Reagan National, said Stacey Knott, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The evacuation order was issued around 1:30 p.m. and was called off about a half-hour later when the plane landed. Few people were at the Capitol complex on Saturday as Congress is out of session.

Salisbury, Md.-based Piedmont is a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways. US Airways spokeswoman Tina Swail said the airline was working with local authorities to investigate the incident.


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