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White House stages jet photo op over lower Manhattan, terrifying New Yorkers

The plane that flew over lower Manhattan Monday morning. (Courtesy WNBC)

By Jason Fink

Talk about stupid.

Panicked New Yorkers — including Mayor Michael Bloomberg — were left furious and dumbfounded Monday over why the military would stage a photo op with a low-flying Air Force One look-alike, trailed by an F-16 fighter jet, buzzing lower Manhattan without warning.

“We thought we were under attack again,” said Laorie Crystal, 50, who lives in Battery Park City and was walking her dog at the time. “It was very scary.”

The White House later apologized for the confusion.


“Clearly, it was a mistake in judgement,” said an Obama administration official who asked not to be named.

Thousands of jittery office workers in lower Manhattan, many compelled by traumatic memories of 9/11, streamed out of buildings shortly before 10 a.m. yesterday, when the plane — a Boeing 747 — flew over the Financial District at somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 feet. Some witnesses even reported to the NYPD that the planes were at no more than 500 feet.

The flight was staged to capture updated its file photos of Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

“Everyone panicked, as you can certainly understand,” said John Leitner, a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange Building.

The Federal Aviation Administration sent an e-mail Thursday to the NYPD and to an official in the mayor’s office, informing them of the mission but no one told Bloomberg, who only found out when his BlackBerry lit up with the news yesterday.

Bloomberg said he was “furious” no one told him.

“Had I known about it I would have tried to stop it,” the mayor said.

The city often releases information when it is planning to conduct a drill related to terrorism. In this case, however, the FAA made it clear that revealing news of the flyover would break federal law regarding classified information, according to Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD’s top spokesman.

Meanwhile, the city official informed by the FAA of the mission but who failed to notify Bloomberg “has been reprimanded” and a disciplinary letter placed in his file, according to a mayoral spokesman.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of a chorus of elected officials who blasted the FAA, said not telling the public beforehand “defies logic and borders on simply being cruel.

“To not realize that people would see this stunt in broad daylight and think of 9/11 defies logic and shows the FAA is completely asleep at the switch,” Schumer said.

Newsday and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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