Army plane heading to Nationals Park parachute jump prompts Capitol evacuation

Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
The Golden Knights parachute team glides into Nationals Park before the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals on Wednesday at Nationals Park.

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Army plane with a parachute team preparing to jump into Nationals Park as part of a pregame ceremony Wednesday evening triggered a threat alert and prompted authorities to briefly evacuate the U.S. Capitol complex, according to District of Columbia police.

An all-clear was quickly given, and six members of the Army’s Golden Knights safely landed on the outfield grass before the Nationals took on the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The mix-up created an off-the-field scramble to determine how authorities apparently miscommunicated about the flight on Military Appreciation Night at the baseball game. Aircraft are generally restricted over the District, one of the nation’s most heavily guarded and controlled areas. Congress was not in session during the call for evacuation, which came after business hours.

Representatives of the Golden Knights could not be reached for comment, and an Army spokesperson said the branch was working on a statement. Nationals officials referred questions to the Army and the Federal Aviation Administration, which did not respond to inquiries.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blamed the FAA’s “apparent failure to notify” U.S. Capitol Police about the flight and said it caused “unnecessary panic” for lawmakers and staff still traumatized by the violent Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

In a statement, Pelosi praised Capitol Police for “vigilantly monitoring” for a potential threat and quickly reacting. She called the failure to notify the police department “inexcusable”

Pelosi said Congress will look at the results of a “thorough after-action review” to determine “what precisely went wrong today and who at the Federal Aviation Administration will be held accountable for this outrageous and frightening mistake.”

D.C. police spokeswoman Brianna Burch first confirmed the threat was caused by the Golden Knights plane headed to Nationals Park, based on information from the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The Capitol Police sent an urgent alert at 6:32 p.m. to evacuate the Capitol building and several others, including the visitor center, House and Senate office complexes, the Library of Congress, and the Botanic Garden’s administrative offices and conservatory. The parachute jump occurred about 6:40 p.m.

At 6:48 p.m., the Capitol Police tweeted: “The Capitol was evacuated out of an abundance of caution this evening. There is no threat at the Capitol.”

The agency did not provide additional details, but by then six members of the Golden Knights had successfully dropped from the plane into the ballpark, a demonstration that took six minutes to complete and drew cheers from a scattered crowd. The Capitol is about a mile north of the stadium.

According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, the de Havilland Canada Twin Otter turboprop departed Joint Base Andrews at 6:09 p.m. and returned 41 minutes later. The plane reached an altitude surpassing 3,400 feet and a speed exceeding 140 mph.

The Golden Knights are one of three military demonstration teams, along with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Their website says they have nearly 100 members and five aircraft that perform at more than 100 events each year.