Two Air Force F-16 fighters intercepted a privately owned Cessna airplane that entered the same Los Angeles airspace as Marine One on Thursday as the helicopter was ferrying President Barack Obama, reports CBS News.
About 2 p.m. ET, the single-engine Cessna 182 entered airspace that had been restricted as Obama was returning to Los Angeles International Airport aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said in a statement.
Air traffic controllers tried repeatedly to contact the single-engine Cessna, authorities said, but the pilot, apparently flying under visual flight rules, did not respond. The plane was quickly intercepted by two F-16 fighters from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, officials added, according to Penn Live.
The small plane was forced to land at Long Beach airport, just south of Los Angeles at around 11am, where it was met by police.
A search of the aircraft uncovered 640 ounces of cannabis, The Telegraph reported, a motherlode worth around $160,000 (£100,000).
The pilot was taken into custody by Long Beach police, but his identity and other details were not released because of the continuing drug investigation.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) notified pilots that there was a zone 13km (eight miles) wide above Los Angeles that was off limits to all air traffic on Thursday, spokeswoman Brie Sachse said.
U.S. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said agents questioned the pilot and determined there was no apparent intention to harm the president.
Aircraft typically are prohibited from flying within 10 miles of any plane or helicopter carrying the president. The required separation for small private planes is about 30 miles.
Pilots who violate airspace restricted for security reasons can face revocations of their flying certificates, FAA officials said. If illegal drugs are found onboard, the aircraft can be confiscated by law enforcement.
An FBI spokeswoman said the pilot had been flying from Santa Maria, in Central California, to Long Beach and had failed to respond to radio communications prior to contact by the fighter jets.
Obama flew on the White House helicopter, Marine One, from Los Angeles to the seaside community of Corona Del Mar and back on Thursday morning for a fundraiser.
The Secret Service said the president was never in any danger. A spokesman said: “I can confirm that a plane entered the airspace of Marine One, the restricted airspace, and then was landed at Long Beach airport.
“The occupants were held by local authorities until agents could respond to interview them, and it was determined that there was no protective interest.”
It was not clear who was piloting the Cessna, which according to federal records was manufactured in 1961. The plane’s FAA registration lists the owner as David W. Major, 52, of Grover Beach, Calif., a town south of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County.
Major holds a student pilot certificate issued in 2008, according to the FAA. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
After his morning fundraisers, Obama departed from Los Angeles International Airport about 2:45 p.m. and flew to San Francisco, White House officials said. They declined to comment on the air space violation.