It wasn't an attack, or even a drill -- it was a government-sponsored photo op.
The Pentagon did tell local authorities about the startling fly-over that sent a Boeing 747 and a F-16 fighter screaming over New York's scarred skyline, but officials said they couldn't share the information with the public. They couldn't even share the information with the mayor.
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Mayor Bloomberg said he was "furious" and criticized both the feds and his own administration for failing to issue a simple warning to the public in a city that is still somewhat traumatized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"The good news is it was nothing more than an inconsiderate, badly conceived and insensitive photo op with the taxpayers' money," Bloomberg said.
News 4 New York learned Monday night that at least 90 calls were placed to 911 about the plane.
An official from the Obama administration said the White House Military Office wanted to update its file photo of the president's plane near the Statue of Liberty.
This official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the White House Military Office told the Federal Aviation Administration that it periodically updates file photos of Air Force One near national landmarks, like the statue in New York harbor and the Grand Canyon.
"It's completely asinine after 9/11 to do that," said Keith Mercantine, who witnessed the chaos in Jersey City. "I saw ambulances out here with pregnant women."
An Air Force One lookalike and F-16 buzzed the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor in the morning, halting work on nearby construction sites, causing residents and office workers to flee their high-rises and giving thousands of people in downtown Manhattan and New Jersey a major fright.
At least two people were treated for minor injuries at Jersey City Medical Center after falling during the rush to exit their buildings.
"Everybody panicked," said Daisy Cooper, a Merrill Lynch worker in Jersey City, who lost a nephew on 9/11. "Everybody was screaming and we all ran downstairs. I'm devastated...Everybody was running, we didn't know why we were running. We just knew it was a plane, there we go, 9/11 again."
The Air Force One lookalike is a back up plane for the one used by the president. The plane is designated by the Defense Department as a VC-25 but is recognizable to the public as a Boeing 747.
The Federal Aviation Administration said there was no reason for alarm, even though thousands of people saw the fighter jets circle the statue, along with a VC-25, and immediately thought the worst.
"They were making two, maybe three passes," FAA spokesman Jim Peters told News 4 New York. "The [Department of Defense] and the FAA worked this all out in advance."
A Pentagon official confirmed that while the Presidential Airlift Group, which is based out of Andrews Air Force Base, did inform the FAA and New York City officials about this morning's aerial photo op, they also told both agencies not to inform the public about it.The NYPD confirmed that statement.
Louis Caldera, Director of the White House Military Office took the blame for the photo-op flap.
“Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," said Caldera. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
There's no word on where the photo op will show up.
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