Plumes of flame across the night sky, ear-splitting noise and shaking windows sparked fears of a missile attack on Parliament House, Canberra, as nerves jittered over terrorism.
The cause of the panic, which prompted hundreds of calls to the Australian Federal Police, was a flypast by two F-111 jets commemorating the 100th anniversary of the High Court, at about 8pm on Saturday.
'The timing of it was appalling, on the eve of the Bali service' said Madeleine Quigley, from Ainslie, in Canberra's inner north. 'I seriously thought it was a missile going for Parliament House. I didn't think it was a plane.'
The flypast appeared as two thunderously loud balls of flame screaming overhead at a height of about 300 metres and heading toward the city's landmarks.
Organisers issued press releases in the week before the event, but did not inform police.
Almost as good as the event in November 2001 when the RAAF practiced intercept skills by having 2 fighters in hot pursuit of what appeared to be a commercial jet (it was actually a USAF transport) on a direct course for Sydney's highest skyscraper.