The U.S. Air Force is downplaying reports a U.S. military plane appeared to come unusually close to Air Force One moments before the jet carrying President Donald Trump landed at Joint Base Andrews on Sunday.
The sighting aboard Air Force One of a C-17 Globemaster occurred at 6:23 p.m. (2223 UTC) as the presidential aircraft was descending into its home base located in the state of Maryland, just outside Washington.
Air Force One took no evasive measures and there was no indication it was in any danger. The presidential flight landed without incident at Andrews six minutes later.
Air Force One officials on Monday confirmed pilots had visual and radar contact with the cargo aircraft as it approached the military base.
“There were no safety concerns at any time,” Air Force Spokesman Col. Pat Ryder told VOA. “In addition, both aircraft were being monitored by air traffic control. There was nothing out of the ordinary regarding Air Force One’s approach and landing at Joint Base Andrews.”
Several journalists, including a VOA correspondent aboard the flight witnessed the incident after being alerted by Associated Press staff photographer Alex Brandon who managed to snap a picture of the other plane after it approached at a slightly lower altitude from the north and veered off to the starboard (right) side of Air Force One.
Those from the media who saw the other plane, including a television audio technician who has been flying on Air Force One since the Carter administration, agreed they had never witnessed such a close encounter aboard the presidential aircraft.
“I would say beyond all doubt that this is a strange occurrence,” said a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel commenting on the incident, who was quoted by Strategic Sentinel, which specializes in geospatial intelligence.
Air Force One is often given more separation by air traffic controllers beyond the typical 300 meters vertically or 4.8 kilometers horizontally spacing.
Trump was returning from a four-day stay at his Mar-a-Lago resort where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and ordered a missile strike against an airfield from where the Syrian air force had launched planes that allegedly dropped sarin nerve gas on civilians in rebel-held territory.