A U.S. F-15 fighter jet

A U.S. F-15 fighter jet Credit: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

Nassau County residents received a surprise in the skies over the South Shore this week after an F-15 fighter jet intercepted a civilian aircraft that had entered restricted airspace 20 miles east of New York City, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The federal government had imposed temporary flight restrictions in and around New York City, with President Joe Biden in town for an address Wednesday to the United Nations General Assembly.

The single-engine Cessna 172 private plane, which had departed from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, entered the restricted zone at 11:40 a.m. and failed to respond to multiple radio calls, officials said.

NORAD, a binational defense command of the U.S. and Canada, deployed the fighter jet to intercept the civilian aircraft, the agency said. The private plane exited the restricted air space shortly before noon, said NORAD, which employs a defense network of radars, satellites and fighter aircrafts.

The FAA said it will investigate the incident.

The agency did not disclose how many people, other than the pilot, were on board the Cessna, where the plane was heading or what motivation the pilot may have had for entering the restricted air space.

"The FAA does not release details of open investigations," the agency said in a statement, declining additional comment. "Generally speaking, pilots who violate [temporary flight restrictions] can face sanctions ranging from warnings to license suspensions or revocations. The sanction depends on the circumstances of the violation."

A spokeswoman for the Town of Islip, which manages MacArthur Airport, directed inquiries to the FAA.

Violations of airspace restricted to protect the president happen “a handful” of times every year nationwide, according to Hassan Shahidi, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

“These incidents happen — have happened in the past — but they are rare, and when they do happen, of course there is a process for escorting them, because the whole area’s under surveillance, and they’re watching all airplanes, and so yes, you have these airplanes that transgress into this restricted airspace, and they’re escorted by military jet,” Shahidi said.

“In most of these cases,” he said, “you have a small airplane that goes into” restricted airspace “not knowing” about the restriction.

The wayward pilots, and the circumstances of the transgression, are then investigated by the FAA.

“They will look at exactly what happened in this flight — what did the pilot do? What did the pilot know?” he said. The findings help determine what penalties, if any, are to be levied. The most severe can include civil fines and the loss of a pilot’s license.

What are called Temporary Flight Restrictions are communicated to pilots electronically via what are called NOTAM — Notices to Air Missions. The restrictions, typically lasting a few hours or a half-day, are also imposed for air shows, the Super Bowl and other big events. As a condition of holding and keeping a license to fly, a pilot’s responsibility is to check for, and obey, the NOTAMs.

 On social media Wednesday, Nassau residents from Massapequa to Jones Beach reported seeing the fighter jet with one woman from East Meadow posting online that the pictures on her walls began shaking as the fighter jet zipped overhead.

Nassau County residents received a surprise in the skies over the South Shore this week after an F-15 fighter jet intercepted a civilian aircraft that had entered restricted airspace 20 miles east of New York City, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The federal government had imposed temporary flight restrictions in and around New York City, with President Joe Biden in town for an address Wednesday to the United Nations General Assembly.

The single-engine Cessna 172 private plane, which had departed from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, entered the restricted zone at 11:40 a.m. and failed to respond to multiple radio calls, officials said.

NORAD, a binational defense command of the U.S. and Canada, deployed the fighter jet to intercept the civilian aircraft, the agency said. The private plane exited the restricted air space shortly before noon, said NORAD, which employs a defense network of radars, satellites and fighter aircrafts.

The FAA said it will investigate the incident.

The agency did not disclose how many people, other than the pilot, were on board the Cessna, where the plane was heading or what motivation the pilot may have had for entering the restricted air space.

"The FAA does not release details of open investigations," the agency said in a statement, declining additional comment. "Generally speaking, pilots who violate [temporary flight restrictions] can face sanctions ranging from warnings to license suspensions or revocations. The sanction depends on the circumstances of the violation."

A spokeswoman for the Town of Islip, which manages MacArthur Airport, directed inquiries to the FAA.

Violations of airspace restricted to protect the president happen “a handful” of times every year nationwide, according to Hassan Shahidi, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

“These incidents happen — have happened in the past — but they are rare, and when they do happen, of course there is a process for escorting them, because the whole area’s under surveillance, and they’re watching all airplanes, and so yes, you have these airplanes that transgress into this restricted airspace, and they’re escorted by military jet,” Shahidi said.

“In most of these cases,” he said, “you have a small airplane that goes into” restricted airspace “not knowing” about the restriction.

The wayward pilots, and the circumstances of the transgression, are then investigated by the FAA.

“They will look at exactly what happened in this flight — what did the pilot do? What did the pilot know?” he said. The findings help determine what penalties, if any, are to be levied. The most severe can include civil fines and the loss of a pilot’s license.

What are called Temporary Flight Restrictions are communicated to pilots electronically via what are called NOTAM — Notices to Air Missions. The restrictions, typically lasting a few hours or a half-day, are also imposed for air shows, the Super Bowl and other big events. As a condition of holding and keeping a license to fly, a pilot’s responsibility is to check for, and obey, the NOTAMs.

 On social media Wednesday, Nassau residents from Massapequa to Jones Beach reported seeing the fighter jet with one woman from East Meadow posting online that the pictures on her walls began shaking as the fighter jet zipped overhead.

Latest videos