F-16s intercept small plane after misinterpreted phrase

F-16s intercepted a small plane after officials misinterpreted pilot's phrase as his aircraft flew over U.S. military airspace: "hostile takeover."

The pilot was talking about business, the plane's owner said. But a frantic air traffic controller could not confirm that because the pilot had turned off his radio, said Maj. Roger Yates of the Clay County Sheriff's Department.

Within minutes, federal aviation authorities scrambled the fighter jets to intercept the plane Monday evening just outside of Oklahoma City and escort it to the Clay County airport near Mosby, Missouri.

Once it was on the ground, more than a dozen armed federal agents and tactical deputies surrounded the plane. Federal authorities, who interviewed the pilot for two hours, said Tuesday that there was no threat to anyone and no charges would be filed.

"People should be very careful in this heightened state of security about comments they make regarding airplanes and air traffic," said FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza.

The plane's owner, Dr. Kenneth E. Mann, said the pilot was heading back to Kansas City after dropping him off in Oklahoma, where Mann regularly travels to provide treatment at several hospitals. Neither he nor authorities would identify the pilot.

Authorities said the pilot was flying over Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma on his way back to the Kansas City area when he notified the air traffic tower at the air base that he was entering the base's airspace.

When asked what his destination was, the pilot said he preferred not to say because competitors could use such information to steal clients. He was not required to give a destination, Mann said. He said the pilot was concerned because he worked "in a hostile business environment."

The pilot was speaking about a "hostile takeover" of a company, Yates said.

Mann said FBI agents were at his home less than an hour after the incident.

"Mistakes happen," he said, "and in the times we live in after 9/11, it's better to overreact than not react at all."