'Slow-moving blob' that may have been a flock of birds caused White House lockdown

Article Image

The White House was briefly put on lockdown after an aircraft entered restricted airspace.

Posted: Nov 26, 2019 9:12 AM
Updated: Nov 26, 2019 5:00 PM


A 'slow-moving blob' that may have been a flock of birds triggered a lockdown of the White House and caused the US Capitol to be placed on 'restrictive access' Tuesday morning.

Senior national security officials across the agencies convened to coordinate and monitor the situation after the mysterious 'blob' was seen on radar at the Capitol Police command center flying just south of the National Mall, according to a law enforcement source.

Military aircraft were scrambled in response.

Initial assessments indicated that the 'blob' was an unauthorized aircraft entering restrictive airspace, leading to the brief lockdown.

The airspace around Washington is more restricted than anywhere else in the country, according to the FAA, as 'rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks establish 'national defense airspace' over the area and limit aircraft operations to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization.'

'Senior officials across the interagency are monitoring the situation on a national event conference call. NORAD aircraft are on site and responding. Plane is not considered hostile at this time,' Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said during the early stages of the event.

But hours after the all clear was given, a defense official told CNN that a final determination had not yet been made as to what exactly caused the event.

There are currently three possible causes being analyzed, a US defense official confirmed to CNN: Birds, an atmospheric anomaly or a drone.

A US Capitol Police source also said it is 'still not known' what happened other than there was 'a big slow-moving blob of something' on radar that caused concern the object could be a drone.

US Coast Guard helicopters that arrived to intercept found no threat requiring further action, prompting law enforcement to search on the ground for a possible drone, the defense official said.

A White House official also told CNN that the lockdown was in response to a possible drone.

But two Capitol Police sources told CNN that the flying object may have just been a flock of birds, given how slowly it was moving and how it appeared on radar, then dissipated.

That theory has only been bolstered by the fact that military jets and helicopters scrambled in response reported that they saw nothing in the sky, according to a defense official.

A US official told CNN that the Federal Aviation Administration also did not see any aircraft on its radar.

However, air traffic control audio reviewed by CNN showed that the responding military aircraft, operated by a pilot going by the call sign 'Blackjack,' did report seeing a flock of birds while in the air.

Pilot: 'And we, uh, almost just hit a flock of birds here at about one thousand three hundred.'

Control: 'Blackjack, you see the direction they're going?'

Pilot: 'Yeah, they're going north, northwest.'

'A trained radar operator should be able to differentiate between a flock of birds and an aircraft, but this mistake is actually a fairly common one,' according to retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton.

'How the flock of birds appears on a radar screen can be very similar to the radar 'look' of a small aircraft. This happens sometimes with older radar systems,' he added.

Tuesday's event highlights the need for radar images to be 'enhanced by other sources of information that can either confirm or call into question the radar operator's -- or air traffic controller's -- interpretation of those blips on his or her screen,' Leighton added.

The Capitol Police source said the US Capitol went to 'Aircon yellow' at 8:27 a.m. when the object was first identified. AIRCON is the alert status triggered when an aircraft enters the restricted airspace in Washington without authorization.

It took 11 minutes before the object was in the range that caused the alert at the Capitol to go to aircon orange, indicating it was slow moving.

US Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said on Tuesday that 'access to Capitol Complex buildings was restricted for a short time' out of an 'abundance of caution' and that the situation was cleared about 45 minutes after the report of a possible aircraft in restricted space.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 22464

Reported Deaths: 942
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin7540565
Ramsey2610103
Stearns198412
Nobles14883
Anoka126259
Dakota118244
Olmsted57510
Washington56230
Kandiyohi4751
Rice4112
Clay40625
Scott3792
Todd2960
Wright2691
Sherburne2192
Mower2161
Carver1852
Benton1692
Steele1480
Martin1265
Blue Earth1221
St. Louis11513
Freeborn970
Pine850
Winona7815
Nicollet747
Carlton730
Cottonwood650
Otter Tail620
Unassigned6110
Goodhue603
Watonwan590
Polk592
Crow Wing571
Itasca537
Chisago501
Dodge460
Chippewa441
Meeker440
Le Sueur431
Morrison400
Douglas390
Jackson390
Becker370
Murray360
Lyon360
Isanti330
McLeod290
Waseca240
Rock210
Swift170
Pennington170
Mille Lacs171
Fillmore171
Wabasha170
Brown142
Faribault130
Beltrami130
Sibley130
Cass122
Norman110
Wilkin113
Kanabec111
Pipestone100
Marshall90
Pope80
Wadena80
Aitkin70
Koochiching70
Yellow Medicine60
Lincoln50
Renville50
Mahnomen51
Red Lake40
Traverse30
Big Stone30
Clearwater30
Redwood30
Grant30
Lac qui Parle30
Houston20
Lake10
Hubbard10
Roseau10
Kittson10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 18342

Reported Deaths: 496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3876115
Woodbury265831
Black Hawk171343
Linn93876
Marshall87815
Dallas87317
Buena Vista6820
Johnson6058
Muscatine54741
Wapello5384
Crawford4882
Tama40026
Scott34610
Louisa33610
Dubuque33016
Jasper25716
Pottawattamie2277
Sioux2100
Washington1858
Wright1240
Allamakee1194
Plymouth1191
Warren1140
Story961
Poweshiek888
Mahaska888
Bremer676
Henry671
Clinton601
Des Moines581
Boone560
Taylor480
Cedar461
Guthrie443
Clarke400
Benton391
Jones360
Iowa360
Monroe354
Shelby350
Clayton313
Buchanan310
Osceola310
Marion300
Webster291
Hamilton280
Madison261
Fayette260
Monona240
Lee230
Cherokee230
Winneshiek230
Cerro Gordo221
Davis200
Jefferson190
Harrison190
Lyon190
Grundy190
Floyd181
Sac170
Mills160
Hardin150
Butler150
Delaware150
Humboldt140
Ida140
Keokuk140
Hancock140
Appanoose133
Jackson130
Dickinson130
Clay130
Greene130
Howard120
Audubon121
Winnebago110
Cass110
Page100
Van Buren90
Franklin90
Carroll90
Pocahontas90
Chickasaw80
Emmet80
Unassigned80
Kossuth80
Adair70
Adams70
Lucas70
Union60
Montgomery60
Mitchell50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Calhoun20
Decatur10
Wayne10
Rochester
Scattered Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 66°
Mason City
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 71°
Albert Lea
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 72°
Austin
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 72°
Charles City
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 68°
Lingering showers Thursday AM will turn to sunshine by the afternoon
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events