F-16s Force Small Plane To Land

Thursday, July 5th 2007, 6:54 am
By: News On 6

OCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Air Force F-16 fighters forced a small plane experiencing engine trouble to land after it turned around in Mexican airspace and began heading north as the pilot did not respond to radio calls.

The Cessna was spotted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection radar operators on Wednesday afternoon about 15 miles across the U.S.-Mexico border. Operators at the Air and Marine Operations center in Riverside watched as the plane turned around and began heading north, prompting the scrambling of the F-16s.

``Once it crossed the border, it became a national security incident,'' said Juan Munoz Torres, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The military pilots, unable to communicate with the Cessna, flew beside the small craft and used hand gestures to order the pilot to land. The plane was met at a municipal airport by Oceanside police, San Diego County sheriff's deputies, border and customs agents and a drug-sniffing dog.

The plane's three male occupants were U.S. citizens, who said they were heading from the United States to La Paz in Baja California on a surfing trip when the Cessna developed engine and communication problems, Torres said.

By early evening officials had confirmed the story and the three were released.

U.S. and local law enforcement personnel are on heightened security alert because of failed terrorist attacks in Britain last week.