Army Parachute Demo at Washington Nationals Game Triggers Capitol Evacuation

April 21, 2022Hannah Ray Lambert
army parachute

A member of the US Army Golden Knights parachute team lands at Nationals Park before the game between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Washington, DC. Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images.

A pregame parachute demonstration by the US Army Golden Knights at Nationals Park prompted police to evacuate the US Capitol Wednesday, April 20, after officers said they mistook the military aircraft for a “probable threat.”

An email alert from US Capitol Police around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday with the subject line “Evacuate Now: Aircraft Intrusion” sent lawmakers, congressional staffers, and other government officials scrambling.

The apparent communication breakdown between the military, Federal Aviation Administration, and police comes amid attempts by the Capitol to improve security following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot during which supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building.

The twin-engine plane, carrying members of the US Army Golden Knights, took off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and had been circling near the Capitol when the alert was sent, The Associated Press reported. The de Havilland Twin Otter kept clear of the prohibited airspace above the Capitol and other federal complexes, according to radar tracking data, and air traffic control recordings show the Army plane did coordinate its flight with the control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the AP reported.

Shortly after sending the initial alert, Capitol Police tweeted that the building had been evacuated “out of an abundance of caution” and that there was no threat.

The Golden Knights are the Army’s official parachute demonstration team, made up of about 100 soldiers, including pilots and support personnel. Launched in 1959, the Knights today have four jump teams, including two demonstration teams, a team dedicated to tandem jumps for VIPs and other passengers, and an eight-jumper competition team. Jumpers come from a wide range of jobs and units from around the Army, and they include parachute riggers, infantry and artillery soldiers, recruiters, and even one Air Force Security Forces airman.

The demonstration teams participate in more than 100 events a year, according to the Golden Knights website.

The parachutists landed on the field at Nationals Park, about a mile from the Capitol, and the plane returned to Joint Base Andrews around 6:50 p.m.

Investigators are still trying to figure out why the demonstration wasn’t properly coordinated with law enforcement, according to the AP.

“We are reviewing all aspects of the event to ensure all procedures were followed appropriately to coordinate both the flight and the parachute demonstration,” wrote a spokesperson for US Army Recruiting Command, which had coordinated the Golden Knights demonstration for Military Appreciation Day at Nationals Park.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, blamed the FAA for an “apparent failure to notify Capitol Police” of the flyover, issuing a statement Wednesday night in which she called the incident “outrageous and inexcusable.”

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Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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