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Civilian pilot strays into restricted air space over Washington

The U.S. Air Force sent two F-16 jet fighters to intercept a civilian plane that had strayed into restricted air space over Washington, D.C., at about 8:30 p.m. Monday. The military planes, based at Andrews Air Force Base, escorted the smaller craft until the pilot landed at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration was unable to communicate with the pilot, the sole occupant of the Beechcraft 58 aircraft, a small, twin-engine plane. FAA alerted the North American Aerospace Defense Command, officials said.

"We had a pilot out of communication who wandered into the National Capitol Region over the D.C. area, which is continually restricted," said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis, spokesman for NORAD. "When that happens, we send up the fighters."

The Department of Homeland Security monitored the situation along with other federal agencies.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the aircraft was escorted back to BWI by fighter jets and landed safely without incident," according to a Homeland Security release.

Law enforcement officials met with the pilot of the errant plane, who informed police that he had overflown BWI by mistake, Homeland Security officials said.

Although Homeland Security plans no further investigation, FAA will continue to review the incident, said Laura J. Brown, FAA spokeswoman.

"We investigate any violation into secured, restricted areas," Brown said. "We could possibly suspend the pilot's license for several months."

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