Pro­tester lands mini copter on US Capitol lawn

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MICHAEL MATHES

An anti-cor­rup­tion pro­tester was ar­rested af­ter he landed his mini he­li­copter on the U.S. Capitol lawn Wed­nes­day and pi­loted it through Wash­ing­ton’s no-fly zone, trig­ger­ing a na­tional se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tion and shock­ing by­standers.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent along with other U.S. au­thor­i­ties, adding that the pi­lot was not in touch with air traf­fic con­trollers while in the air.

“The FAA did not au­tho­rize him to en­ter re­stricted airspace,” the agency said in a state­ment.

The pi­lot, Dou­glas Hughes, was de­tained and il­le­gal trans­port charges are pending against him, U.S. Capitol Po­lice said.

The ar­rested pi­lot is a Florida man who was con­duct­ing civil dis­obe­di­ence to call for cam­paign fi­nance re­form, ac­cord­ing to the Tampa Bay Times, which had in­ter­viewed and filmed him prior to his au­da­cious flight.

Air space is se­verely re­stricted around Wash­ing­ton land­marks, in­clud­ing the White House and the Capitol, which houses the U.S. Congress whose 535 law­mak­ers were in ses­sion at the time.

A bomb squad in­spected the gy­ro­copter, which landed a few hun­dred yards (me­ters) from the Capitol, but found noth­ing haz­ardous. It was cleared from the grounds hours later.

Au­thor­i­ties re­port­edly put the build­ing on tem­po­rary lock­down, although it was not evac­u­ated. Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi was in the Capitol at the time for a meet­ing with sen­a­tors.

Wit­ness Rachel Jackman said she was alarmed af­ter the in­ci­dent.

“Within min­utes, the en­tire area was shut down. I mean, there were prob­a­bly 30 or 40 of the Capitol po­lice there, cars, some black SUVs as well,” she told CNN.

The breach dur­ing tourist sea­son was the sec­ond air se­cu­rity scare this year in the U. S. cap­i­tal.

In Jan­uary, an in­tel­li­gence agency em­ployee lost con­trol of a hobby drone and crashed it on the White House lawn, prompt­ing a Se­cret Ser­vice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was briefed about Wed­nes­day’s in­ci­dent, the White House said.

Air de­fense com­mand NORAD told AFP that it only be­came aware of the in­ci­dent af­ter the gy­ro­copter landed.

NORAD spokesman Maj. Jamie Humphries said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way to de­ter­mine if the he­li­copter was de­tected by radar and why of­fi­cials were not aware of the air­craft while it was in the air.

In ad­di­tion to the FAA, the Se­cret Ser­vice and a hand­ful of other U.S. agen­cies are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the land­ing.

‘Pa­triot,’ not Bomber

“I’m de­mand­ing re­form and declar­ing a voter’s re­bel­lion in a man­ner con­sis­tent with Jef­fer­son’s de­scrip­tion of rights in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence,” Hughes, 61, re­port­edly wrote in let­ters to all 535 mem­bers of Congress and which he car­ried with him on his flight.

On the web­site Democ­ra­cy­club. org, Hughes de­scribed what he wanted to achieve with his stunt.

“In ev­ery Con­gres­sional race in 2016, I want ev­ery can­di­date to take a stand on cor­rup­tion,” he ap­par­ently wrote.

Hughes is de­scribed as a mail­man, and a logo ap­pear­ing to be that of the U.S. Postal Ser­vice was vis­i­ble on the tail of the air­craft.

It ap­peared Hughes was fly­ing a sin­gle- seat, open- cock­pit Bensen- type gy­ro­copter, which the FAA clas­si­fies as an ul­tra­light “ve­hi­cle” that re­quires no reg­is­tra­tion.

The gy­ro­copter typ­i­cally cruises at 65 miles (105 kilo­me­ters) an hour, with flight times of no more than 90 min­utes. No air­port is re­quired for take­off and a rear pro­pel­ler is used for thrust.

“They’re de­signed very strictly for recre­ational, low-altitude fly­ing,” Dick Knap­in­ski, spokesman for the Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion, told AFP.

A U.S. Capitol Po­lice of­fi­cer told the Tampa Bay Times that Hughes “hasn’t no­ti­fied any­body” of his planned flight.

But his friend Mike Shana­han said he called a Se­cret Ser­vice agent to no­tify him of the flight hours be­fore Hughes landed in Wash­ing­ton.

“He’s not a sui­cide bomber, he’s a pa­triot,” Shana­han, 65, told the news­pa­per.

AP

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

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