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U.S. Capitol evacuated after pilot loses radio contact

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WASHINGTON — An airliner lost radio contact when a pilot inadvertently turned his radio to the wrong frequency, leading to the scrambling of fighter jets and the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, federal officials said Saturday.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the agency is reviewing the "pilot readback error." The loss of radio contact as the plane approached the nation’s capital also led officials to evacuate all House and Senate office buildings.

Piedmont Airlines flight 4352 from Hilton Head, S.C., was on course for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport when it lost radio contact with air traffic controllers at a regional radar facility in Virginia for about 15 minutes, FAA officials said.

F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base, but the airliner was able to re-establish radio contact and it landed at Reagan, said Stacey Knott, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The evacuation order was issued around 1:30 p.m. and was called off about a half-hour later when the plane landed.

Salisbury, Md.-based Piedmont is a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways. US Airways spokeswoman Tina Swail said the airline was working with local authorities to investigate the incident.

The number of passengers on board wasn’t immediately known. The company’s website says it operates 44 de Havilland DHC-8 turboprop aircraft, which can carry between 37 and 80 passengers depending on the model type.

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Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.

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