LONG BEACH — A surprise awaited law enforcement officials Thursday when a plane that was diverted to Long Beach after entering airspace restricted for President Barack Obama was discovered to allegedly have a haul of marijuana aboard.
A pair of F-16 fighters forced the Cessna 182 aircraft to land at Long Beach Airport at 11 a.m., according to official sources.
While the Secret Service says the pilot didn't appear to be interested in the president's aircraft, federal officials who detained the pilot found a large amount of marijuana onboard, according to a statement from the Long Beach Police Department.
After federal authorities investigated, they released the man to the custody of the Police Department, which will conduct the drug investigation. The pilot's identity is being withheld.
The Associated Press reported that about 40 pounds of marijuana was discovered, though police didn't confirm the amount Thursday night.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement that two F-16 fighters scrambled out of March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County in response to the violation and diverted the plane to Long Beach.
Ray Fox, who lives in the Carmelitos neighborhood of Long Beach, said he was outside when he heard an F-16 circling overhead.
That drew Fox's attention and he saw the small passenger plane appear and an F-16 pull up close to the civilian plane.
"(The military plane) was right on that Cessna's butt," Fox said. "They were trying to give him a message."
He said the F-16 then turned north toward Palos Verdes.
Airport spokeswoman Kerry Gerot confirmed only that a plane was forced to land at the airport at about 11 a.m. Thursday.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary confirmed that the plane had been in restricted space and added that it wasn't believed to be "of protective interest," meaning it wasn't believed the pilot had any interest in the president's aircraft.
Leary said the Federal Aviation Administration posts when airspace is restricted and it is the responsibility of pilots to know that and avoid the off-limits areas.
Obama arrived Wednesday in Los Angeles and was in Corona Del Mar in Orange County on Thursday for political fundraisers.
(Greg Mellen - Press Telegram)