The Pentagon sought to dampen speculation that the US was sending warning signals to its enemies after ‘doomsday’ planes were dispatched following Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.
Minutes before the president tweeted that he and First Lady Melania had tested positive, two Boeing E-6B Mercury planes took off from both US coasts.
The planes can be used to send ballistic missile commands and are a key part of the US defence system in the event of a crisis - earning them their ominous nickname.
But officials were quick to dismiss any speculation that the two planes were a show of strength and a warning to enemies not try to take advantage of the political turmoil brought about by Mr Trump's illness.
“These flights were pre-planned missions. Any timing to the president’s announcement is purely coincidental,” a US Strategic Command (Stratcom) spokesman, which oversees America’s nuclear arsenal, told the Sunday Telegraph.
RT There's an E-6B Mercury off the east coast near DC. I looked because I would expect them to pop up if he tests positive. It's a message to the small group of adversaries with SLBMs and ICBMs. pic.twitter.com/3ta9PmPxZD
— Tim Hogan (@TimInHonolulu) October 2, 2020
After the news of Mr Trump’s diagnosis broke on Thursday, plane spotters and social media theorists were quick to draw a connection between the two events.
Officials have been keen to stress that the president will continue his duties as usual after being taken to hospital as a “precautionary measure” on Friday.
“The president remains the commander-in-chief,” one senior military official told Fox News.
As Mr Trump boarded Marine One to be airlifted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his ‘nuclear football’ was loaded alongside him.
The football is the nickname for his briefcase that carries the codes used by the president to authorise a nuclear attack while away from a fixed command centre.
Since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the case - officially called the Presidential Emergency Satchel - has accompanied every president when they are away from the White House.