Accessibility links

USA

Man Arrested for Landing Mini-copter Near US Capitol

  • VOA News

A 61-year-old mailman from Ruskin, Florida, is under arrest for illegally landing a one-passenger helicopter on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Capitol Police have not identified the suspect, but a Florida postal carrier named Doug Hughes took responsibility for the stunt on a website where he said he was delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress to draw attention to campaign finance corruption.

"As I have informed the authorities, I have no violent inclinations or intent,'' Hughes wrote on his website, thedemocracyclub.org. "An ultralight aircraft poses no major physical threat — it may present a political threat to graft. I hope so. There's no need to worry — I'm just delivering the mail.''

Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hughes' letter to lawmakers said, "I'm demanding reform and declaring a voters' rebellion in a manner consistent to [U.S. founding father Thomas] Jefferson's description of rights in the Declaration of Independence."

A member of a bomb squad checks a small helicopter after a man landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol, April 15, 2015.

A member of a bomb squad checks a small helicopter after a man landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol, April 15, 2015.

The small craft presented a strange sight, sitting on the green lawn of the Capitol, its rotors slowly spinning. Police immediately placed part of Capitol Hill on lockdown while dogs and a robot detector checked the copter for possible explosives. Once the craft had been declared free of hazardous cargo, authorities began preparing to move it to a secure location.

The White House said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation.

Witnesses said the craft, known as a gyrocopter, approached the Capitol from the west, flying low over the National Mall and the Capitol reflecting pool. It barely cleared a row of trees and a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant, then settled on the lawn a few hundred meters from the Capitol. It sported the U.S. Postal Service's logo.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said authorities were prepared to shoot the aircraft down. "Had it gotten any closer to the speaker's balcony, they have long guns to take it down, but it didn't. It landed right in front,'' he said.

John Jewell, 72, a tourist from Statesville, North Carolina, said the craft landed hard and bounced — where an officer was waiting with his gun drawn. The pilot "didn't get out until police officers told him to get out. He had his hands up'' and was quickly led away, Jewell said. "They snatched him pretty fast.''

Elizabeth Bevins, a tourist from Atlanta, said she was standing across the street from the Capitol when the gyrocopter flew in about 20 or 30 feet off the ground and "just sort of plopped down on the lawn.''

As it flew, police told bystanders to run with their heads down, said Nora Neus, 21, a junior at the University of Virginia who was in the capital for a job interview.

"I thought it was a joke at first. My next thought was, 'This is something really bad,' '' she said.

The Times said the Secret Service had been tipped off that Hughes was planning to fly to Washington. An agent questioned him at his home but took no action.

The newspaper said Hughes told the agent he was not suicidal or violent and had no intention of crashing into any government buildings.

The gyrocopter might qualify as what the Federal Aviation Administration calls an "ultralight'' aircraft. These aircraft weigh under 254 pounds empty, have a fuel capacity of 5 gallons or less and aren't capable of flying faster than 55 knots. The FAA doesn't certify the safety of these aircraft, and their pilots are not required to have a license.

Airspace around Washington is highly restricted for security reasons. Any aircraft flying into the restricted zone is at risk of being shot down.

Capitol Police, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not commented on Wednesday's incident.

The security scare came after a man shot himself dead in front of the Capitol on Saturday and sparked a temporary lockdown.

In January, a small "quadcopter'' drone crashed onto the White House lawn. The man who was operating it did not face criminal charges.

Some information for this report came from AP.

WATCH: Eyewitness tells VOA what he saw

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG