148th Fighter Wing F-16s respond to suspicious aircraft

An F-16C Fighting Falcon of the 148th Fighter Wing takes off during an exercise May 20, 2006 in Duluth, Minn.  (US Air Force Photo by TSgt Brett R. Ewald)

An F-16C Fighting Falcon of the 148th Fighter Wing takes off during an exercise in Duluth, Minn. (US Air Force Photo by TSgt Brett R. Ewald)

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Air National Guard fighter aircraft from two states intercepted a suspicious aircraft as it flew into U.S. airspace on Monday afternoon.

North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) directed F16C's assigned to the 148th Fighter Wing (FW) in Duluth, Minn., to initially intercept the plane near Michigan's Upper Peninsula before handing off the mission to F-16s assigned to 115th FW of Madison, Wis.

Pilots attempted to notify the pilot to establish communications with local Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers and land safety for further follow-on action, according to a news release from the Wisconsin National Guard.

The Cessna pilot acknowledged the fighters but was unresponsive to specific non-verbal commands, according to a NORAD press release.

Mike Kucharek, a NORAD spokesman, said the Cessna 172 single-engine aircraft was reported as stolen from an aviation school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and departed without Navigation Canada authority.

The pilot was flying erratically and did not communicate with fighter pilots, he told national news agencies.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft intercepted the Cessna as well, but the F-16s followed the aircraft until it landed in an area 23 miles northwest of Popular Bluff, Mo., at 9:45 p.m., EDT.

The Wisconsin fighters were about to hand the mission over to aircraft from the 159th FW of the Louisiana Air National Guard when the Cessna ran out of gas over southern Missouri. The aircraft landed on Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo., and was apprehended by local authorities.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard and the homeland security advisor to the state, ordered the evacuation of the Capitol building in Madison as a precautionary measure, according to a press release from the state. At 5:45 p.m., the evacuation was terminated based on the aircraft's proximity to the Capitol and workers were allowed to return to the building.