Gyrocopter pilot nearly collided with airplane: Prosecutors

A Florida man who flew a small gyrocopter through protected Washington airspace before landing outside the U.S. Capitol last spring was seconds away from colliding with a Delta flight that had taken off from Reagan National Airport, prosecutors said.

See Full Article

In a court filing Friday, prosecutors said Douglas Hughes flew his one-person aircraft almost directly into the oncoming flight path of the Airbus turbojet carrying 150 people last April. Hughes came within 1,400 yards (1,280 metres) of Delta Flight 1639, while safety rules require aircraft to remain separated by more than 3,000 yards (2,740 metres).

"If the gyrocopter had drifted slightly west, or the airline had taken a slightly more easterly path, a collision could have occurred," prosecutors said. Such a collision could have been "catastrophic," they added.

Hughes, who agreed to a plea deal in November, is set to be sentenced April 13. Prosecutors are asking for 10 months in prison, arguing the former mail carrier from Ruskin, Florida, put countless lives at risk.

Hughes' attorneys say they don't think he should have to serve any more time behind bars, noting that no one was injured and no property was damaged. Hughes spent one night in jail after the stunt, served five weeks in home confinement and had this travel privileges restricted for nearly a year.

Mark Goldstone, an attorney for Hughes, said they will look into the government's claim about the Delta flight. But he questioned why prosecutors are now saying Hughes flew closer to the plane than they previously reported.

"It seems suspicious that on the eve of sentencing, all of a sudden his flight was about to blow up a commercial airliner," Goldstone said Saturday.

Hughes pleaded guilty in November to a felony of operating a gyrocopter without a license. The charge carries a potential sentence of three years in prison, but prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than 10 months as part of the plea deal.

Hughes has said he was trying to send a political message about the need for stronger campaign finance restrictions by flying the aircraft to Washington after taking off from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He told investigators during an interview after he was arrested that the only way he potentially put lives in danger was if "authorities overreacted" and tried to shoot him down.

His attorneys argue that while Hughes broke the law, prosecutors should not respond in a way that discourages Americans from expressing their grievances about their government.

"Suppressing or even discouraging political dissidence is a very dangerous and undemocratic prospect," his attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors said Capitol Police officers were in position to shoot Hughes when he landed and that one of the officers had him in his gun sight with a round in the chamber. They noted that Hughes' flight took him less than a mile (1.6 kilometres) from Vice-President Joe Biden's home, about 175 feet (53 metres)from the Washington Monument and close to other landmarks.

They say prison time is necessary to deter such action in the future.

"Whether the next airspace violator is an unpopular religious extremist who wants to impact US foreign policy or a popular advocate on any issue of domestic policy, the deterrent message must be clear: If you violate the airspace of our nation's capital -- regardless of your message -- you will be punished because of the substantial risks to safety and national security," prosecutors wrote.

Hughes' attorneys say he has pledged that he will comply with the law from now on as he continues his push for political change.

Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • 'Justine did not have to die': Minneapolis police chief addresses shooting of woman who called 911

    World News CBC News
    The fatal shooting of an Australian woman by a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer responding to her 911 call "should not have happened," police Chief Janee Harteau said, adding that the officer's actions "go against who we are in the department. Source
  • Israel limits Muslim access to Jerusalem site amid tensions

    World News CBC News
    Israel banned Muslim men under the age of 50 from a contested Jerusalem shrine on Friday, ahead of expected protests over the installation of metal detectors there. Police reinforcements poured into Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods in the morning, particularly in an around the walled Old City where the shrine is located. Source
  • Even after Trump warning, Mueller likely to probe president's finances: reports

    World News CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump's growing anxiety about the federal Russia probe has spilled into public view with his warning in a New York Times interview earlier this week that special counsel Robert Mueller would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family's finances. Source
  • In South Sudan, a child soldier long thought dead comes back

    World News CTV News
    JUBA, South Sudan -- She had no body to bury, so the grieving mother kneeled in the dirt outside her small hut, recited psalms and simply traced her finger over the uneven earth. It was December 2015, a year after Nyayan Koang’s boy was abducted by government soldiers at the age of just 14 to fight in South Sudan’s army. Source
  • Asian ISIS supporters galvanized by Philippine city siege: report

    World News CTV News
    JAKARTA, Indonesia - The attack by Islamic State group-affiliated militants on a Philippine city has galvanized its Southeast Asian supporters and spells trouble for the region, a top terrorism researcher said Friday as the occupation of Marawi nears two months despite a sustained military offensive. Source
  • Quake damages buildings on Greek island; 2 killed, 120 hurt

    World News Toronto Sun
    ATHENS, Greece — A powerful earthquake shook the Greek resort island of Kos early Friday morning, damaging older and historic buildings and the main port, killing at least two people and causing more than 120 injuries, authorities said. Source
  • Trump legal team looking to investigate Mueller's investigative team

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team is evaluating potential conflicts of interest among members of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team, three people with knowledge of the matter said Thursday. The revelations come as Mueller's investigation appears likely to probe some of the Trump family's business ties. Source
  • South Korea calls for North Korea to respond to talk offers

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - South Korea on Friday urged North Korea to accept its offers for talks as Pyongyang continued to ignore Seoul's proposal for a military meeting to ease animosities along their tense border. Source
  • Coffee recalled: It's not caffeine keeping you up

    World News Toronto Sun
    GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — A Texas coffee company is recalling one of its roasts because it was making some men a bit too excited. Bestherbs Coffee LLC issued the voluntary recall for its New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Natural Herbs Coffee after the U.S. Source
  • Parole hearing for Paul Bernardo pushed back

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo’s bid for parole has been delayed. The notorious sicko began his application for day parole last year. He was scheduled to have a hearing in August, but that has since been pushed back to October, according to various media reports. Source