A single-seat helicopter flew through restricted airspace over the District on Wednesday and landed on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, where police immediately swarmed the aircraft and arrested the pilot.
U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that they had detained and were questioning the pilot, whom they did not identify, pending charges.
The pilot was identified as Florida postal carrier Doug Hughes, 61, by the Tampa Bay Times, which said his stunt was a protest to call for campaign finance reforms. The newspaper had chronicled Mr. Hughes’ plans for at least two months. He also claimed responsibility for his act on his website, thedemocracyclub.org.
The mailman’s aim Wednesday was to deliver to each of Congress’ 535 members a two-page letter outlining his demands.
“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,” Mr. Hughes said in his letters. “As a member of Congress, you have three options. 1. You may pretend corruption does not exist. 2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform. 3. You may actively participate in real reform.”
According to several reports, federal authorities had been made aware of his protest plans, presumably by the pilot himself.
In a posting identifying himself and his mission on his website, Mr. Hughes said: “Let me assure you, as I have informed the authorities, I have no violent inclinations or intent. 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.
“This isn’t my regular route. I’m a mailman in Riverview, FL — near Tampa. I’m 61 years old, married, with four children. I flew with my father who was a private pilot, fixed wing and almost helicopter. I’ve been flying gyrocopters for over a year.”
Capitol Police identified the aircraft, which landed about a half city block from the Capitol building, as a “gyro copter with a single occupant,” according to The Associated Press
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the pilot landed on his own, but that had he made it much closer to the Capitol, authorities were prepared to shoot him 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,” said Mr. McCaul, Texas Republican.
Witnesses said the craft approached the Capitol from the west, flying low over the National Mall and the Capitol reflecting pool across the street from the building, the AP reported. It barely cleared a row of trees and a statue of Gen. Ulysses Grant.
John Jewell, 72, a tourist from Statesville, North Carolina, said the craft landed hard and bounced. An officer was already there with a gun drawn.
“He didn’t get out until police officers told him to get out. He had his hands up”’ and was quickly led away by the police, Mr. 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 helicopter flew in around 20 or 30 feet high, and it “just sort of plopped down on the lawn.”
Capitol Police said they were taking every precaution as they investigated the incident, including deploying the bomb squad to examine the gyrocopter.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.