Secret Service visits Gettysburg after gyrocopter landed on Capitol lawn

Written by The Hanover Sun and The Associated Press | Apr 16, 2015 4:13 AM

Photo by AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

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

(Undated) -- The U.S. Secret Service has searched the Gettysburg Regional Airport in its investigation of the Florida postal worker who piloted a gyrocopter onto the U.S. Capitol's lawn.

Agents have hauled away a trailer presumably owned by 61-year-old Doug Hughes.

Police arrested Hughes yesterday afternoon.

They say he steered his tiny aircraft onto the Capitol's West Lawn after flying through restricted airspace around the National Mall. 

Hughes took responsibility for the stunt where he said he was delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress to draw attention to campaign finance corruption.

Public records showed that Hughes is 61 and lives in Ruskin, Florida.

Hughes flew to Washington from the vicinity of Gettysburg, which took about an hour, said Ben Montgomery, a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times.

Montgomery says Hughes discussed his plan in advance with the newspaper, had meticulously plotted his flight and considered himself on a mission that was "sort of a mix of P.T. Barnum and Paul Revere."

The Secret Service came to the Gettysburg Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon to investigate, said Scott Miller, a spokesman for Harrisburg International Airport, which is run by the same airport authority.

At the Gettysburg airport yesterday, there was a police presence around 5:00 p.m., but it was otherwise quiet.

People around the Gettysburg square were mostly unaware Hughes's craft had originated just a little more than two miles away from them.

Jim Michaelson and Lauren Peterson, owners of The House of Time on the square, were unaware and unphased by news of Hughes's stunt.

"Maybe he's just trying to draw attention to an upcoming event here," Peterson said with a laugh.

Others were more concerned with what they perceived to be a brash actions on Hughes's part.

"It's idiotic what he was complaining about," says Shawn Mazza, who recently moved to Gettysburg. "All that effort is going to get him a year or two of jail, but it's not worth it."


Photo by Jenni Wertz/Evening Sun

Hughes wrote earlier on his website that he posed no threat.

"As I have informed the authorities, I have no violent inclinations or intent," Hughes wrote on his website, "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."

The Senate aide said Capitol Police knew of the plan shortly before Hughes took off, and said he had previously been interviewed by the U.S. Secret Service.

The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation. Capitol Police declined to confirm the man's identity.

Capitol Police identified the open-air aircraft, which sported the U.S. Postal Service logo and landed about half a city block from the Capitol building, as a "gyrocopter with a single occupant."

About two hours after the device had landed, police announced that a bomb squad had cleared it and nothing hazardous had been found. The authorities then moved it off the Capitol lawn to a secure location.

House Homeland Security panel Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the pilot landed on his own, but authorities were prepared to shoot him down if he had made it much closer to the Capitol.

"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," McCaul said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot had not been in contact with air traffic controllers and the FAA didn't authorize him to enter restricted airspace.

Airspace security rules that cover the Capitol and the District of Columbia prohibit private aircraft.


This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between the Evening Sun and WITF.

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