Chalk this one up to poor communication: one of the Boeing 747 jetliners that carries the president was used in a photo opportunity yesterday. That op had the aircraft flying down the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan at a very low altitude, not much above the level that two hijacked planes were flown at when they smashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers on September 11, 2001, killing thousands.
Prior to the terrorist attacks, a low flying jetliner wouldn’t have gotten any reaction from normally steely New Yorkers. But, 9/11 forever changed the way New Yorkers look up to the sky, raising suspicion, even panic whenever a low-flying jet is spotted. Yesterday, thousands of workers evacuated their offices, with many fleeing on foot to move away from the “attack zone” just as they did in 2001.
Not A Comedy, But Almost A Tragedy
Yesterday’s incident might have been dismissed as a comedy of errors had it been recognized for what it was: a poorly executed photo op. Worse, the jetliner was trailed the whole time by an F-16 fighter jet, suggesting to many people in the city that a follow up attack was underway, with the Air Force jet dispatched to intercept the wayward aircraft.
Most insulting of all was that Air Force officials, who were behind the assignment, asked that the flight remain confidential. New York City’s police department knew about the photo op as did a junior aid in the Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration. That aid never informed the mayor who was understandably livid over the communication snafu.
A Flying Photo Op
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent an email to City Hall which outlined a “flying photo op” designed to snap glamour shots of the 747 jetliner as it winged its way down the Hudson River, circling past the Statue of Liberty. Flight patterns were identified as was the 1100-1500 foot altitude of the shoot.
However, the FAA instructed that the only those persons “with a need to know” be informed with specific instructions to keep the public out of the loop due to public concern over low-flying aircraft.
Obviously, someone goofed within the FAA, failing to realize that keeping the information hush-hush would create more of a problem. The weather on Monday was beautiful not unlike the conditions on that fateful day in 2001. Take similar weather conditions, add in a low-flying jumbo jetliner and follow that up with a “pursuing” attack jet and you have the makings of 9/11 Redux.
Lessons To Be Learned
The rebuke from the Bloomberg administration was swift as was it forceful. That junior aid had a warning letter put into his personal file, but you have to wonder if the photo op would have taken place had the mayor known about it. Sensitive to the feelings of New Yorkers, Bloomberg most likely would have objected to the flight or at the very least insisted that the public had the right to know.
For his part, PresidentObama voiced his strong displeasure over the communication snafu, a mission which simply would have updated several photo files, but ended up causing panic that resulted in mental harm to fleeing workers as well as millions of dollars in lost productivity.
These days, many Americans simply don’t trust their elected officials. Yesterday’s events gave them one more reason to doubt the actions of local, state and federal officials, resulting in a fall out which cannot yet be measured.
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