Air Guard Fighters Intercept Suspicious Aircraft
By Army Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., April 7, 2009 Air National Guard fighter aircraft from two states intercepted a suspicious aircraft as it flew into U.S. airspace yesterday afternoon.
North American Aerospace Defense Command directed F-16C aircraft assigned to the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, Minn., to initially intercept the Cessna 172 single-engine aircraft near Michigan's Upper Peninsula, before handing off the mission to F-16s assigned to the 115th FW of Madison, Wis.
Pilots attempted to notify the pilot to establish communications with local Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers and land safety for further follow-on action, according to a Wisconsin National Guard news release.
The Cessna pilot acknowledged the fighters, but was unresponsive to specific nonverbal commands, according to a NORAD press release.
Mike Kucharek, a NORAD spokesman, said the Cessna was reported as stolen from an aviation school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and departed without Navigation Canada authority.
The pilot was flying erratically and did not communicate with fighter pilots, the spokesman told national news agencies.
The Wisconsin fighters were about to hand the mission over to aircraft from the 159th FW of the Louisiana Air National Guard when the Cessna ran out of gas over southern Missouri. U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft intercepted the Cessna as well, but the F-16s followed the aircraft until it landed in an area 23 miles northwest of Poplar Bluff, Mo., at 9:45 p.m. EDT. The aircraft landed on Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo., and was apprehended by local authorities.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard and the homeland security advisor to the state, ordered the evacuation of the Capitol building in Madison as a precautionary measure, according to a state-issued press release. At 5:45 p.m., the evacuation was terminated based on the aircraft's proximity to the building.
(Army Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum serves at the National Guard Bureau.)