Official who OK’d Air Force One jet flyover resigns

The 747 used as Air Force One flies over the Statue of Liberty in this photo released on Friday by the White House.
President Obama has accepted the resignation of Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office responsible for the controversial low-altitude flyover of New York by a 747 plane used as Air Force One, the White House said Friday.

The photo shoot, which President Obama said he was “furious” with, happened on April 27. The image of a low-flying plane accompanied by an F-16 fighter jet sent some New Yorkers into the streets and into a panic — reminding them of the tragic 9/11 attacks on the city. Building evacuations also took place across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. Read more of Obama’s reaction Caldera later apologized for the flyover. “I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group’s aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office,” Caldera said in a letter to Obama. “Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president. After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as director of the White House Military Office.” The White House also released a photo of the flyover and a report on the incident on Friday.

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In the report, the White House said Caldera, who had been traveling with President Obama when the flyover plans were initially discussed, did not remember a conversation in which his deputy, George Mulligan, informed him of the flyover. Caldera did not open an e-mail about final plans for the flyover until after it had happened, the report said, noting Caldera had been suffering from severe muscle spasms and had left the officer early on several days. Although recommendations by several parties involved in the flyover had been made that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina be informed of the plans, the report said, that job was left to Caldera, who did not pass the information along. The flyover, officials said, was a training mission — it was also a government-sanctioned photo shoot. Military officials estimate the mission and the photo shoot, aimed at updating file photos of Air Force One — cost $328,835 in taxpayer money. But they said “the hours would have been flown regardless, and the expenses would have been accrued on a different mission.” Witnesses reported seeing the plane circle over the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty before flying up the Hudson River. Watch the plane fly over Manhattan » A YouTube video showed people standing in a parking lot, watching the plane approach. As it nears, they begin to run. “Run, run!” said one person. “Oh my God,” cried another. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was visibly angry last week. “I’m annoyed — furious is a better word — that I wasn’t told,” he said, adding that the decision by the White House Military Office and Federal Aviation Administration to withhold details about the flight were “ridiculous” and “poor judgment.”

But according to Air Force Capt. Anna Carpenter, local law enforcement agencies and the FAA had been notified of the exercise. New York Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne confirmed that department had been alerted about the flight “with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it.”