Border Protection Ready For Errant Planes

SPOKANE — In light of the recent pilot who led federal agents on a chase across the United States on Monday, border protection agents in Eastern Washington say they are prepared for a similar incident.

In Spokane, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and Fairchild A.F.B., help guard against similar airborne intruders.

The last time a plane crossed the U.S. – Canadian border without permission was in 2006. The Spokane Sector’s new helicopter was being shown to the public for the first time in a flight over Newport when a plane strayed across the border without radio contact.

The A-Star was then diverted to intercept the aircraft and ordered the pilot to land.

“AMOC out of Riverside tracks the aircraft in flight and they have a target of interest,” said Agent Joe Grasso of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

The unidentified target was spotted east of Lake Pend Oreille, and Agent Grasso, who was piloting the helicopter at the time, pushed his helicopter to intercept.

“If they’re only doing 78 knots and I’m doing 115, we might be able to catch up to him,” Agent Grasso said.

The plane was finally spotted over the Cabinet Mountain Range, but the people on board did not know they were being followed.

“They are asking that we give them the tail number so they can run the registration,” Agent Grasso said about the errant plane.

A plane’s registration can tell investigators a lot about the pilot’s intention.

“To find out who it’s registered to,” Agent Rob Smith of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. “Whether it’s been sold recently, whether it’s been involved in any other suspect activity over the past, and gives us an opportunity to set up how we’re going to interact with that pilot when we finally get him on the ground.”

In the 2006 case, the errant plane was piloted by biologist tracking grizzly bears, but had they not landed, the next step might have involved jets from the Air National Guard in Portland, Oregon.   

Because fighters making intercepts use up so much fuel, Fairchild A.F.B. has an air tanker standing by around the clock.

“Is so that KC-135’s can get off the ground in a minimum time possible, to refuel any type of fighter that would respond to any type of terrorist activity,” TSgt. Ted Buit of Fairchild A.F.B. Operation Noble Eagle said.

The alert aircraft is also ready to launch in a moment’s notice, to guard against small planes or hijacked jetliners.