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

  • More stalkers using technology, StatsCan says

    Canada News CTV News
    The number of stalking incidents in Canada decreased over a 10-year period, but technology has changed the way victims are stalked, according to a new Statistics Canada report. The report, published Wednesday, looked at the prevalence of stalking, as reported by victims, across Canada between 2004 and 2014. Source
  • Supporters of newly freed Diab want inquiry into his extradition to France

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Supporters of Hassan Diab, recently freed by French authorities, want a public inquiry into his extradition on suspicion of murder. Diab's lawyer, Donald Bayne, says Canada never should have sent the Ottawa sociology professor to France. Source
  • Erotic zone: Laval imposes new rules on sex businesses

    Canada News CTV News
    The southwestern Quebec city of Laval has introduced new measures to limit strip clubs, sex shops and massage parlours to one industrial zone. City officials in Laval, Que. voted to adopt the amendments to bylaw L-2000 on Tuesday night. Source
  • Ex-CIA officer arrested, charged with keeping documents

    World News CTV News
    ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A former CIA officer has been arrested and charged with illegally retaining classified records, including names and phone numbers of covert CIA assets. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, was arrested Monday night after arriving at JFK International Airport. Source
  • Lac-Megantic jury deliberating for seventh straight day

    Canada News CTV News
    SHERBROOKE, Que. -- Jurors are deliberating for a seventh consecutive day today at the trial of three men charged with criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Megantic railway disaster. The 12 jurors sent the judge a letter Tuesday telling him they were at an impasse. Source
  • Ontario family 'disheartened' by ruling that Ft. William sanatorium not a residential school

    Canada News CBC News
    The family of an 84-year-old Indigenous woman who tried to get a former sanatorium in what is now Thunder Bay, Ont., designated as a residential school says they're "disheartened" by a recent ruling. Ruth Ann Henry was the applicant in an amended request for direction, filed in 2014, to get the "Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium School" added to the residential school settlement agreement. Source
  • Across the U.S. South, it's snow, ice and record-breaking cold

    World News CTV News
    ATLANTA -- The South awoke Wednesday to a two-part Arctic mess that caused problems as far south as the Gulf Coast. First came a thin blanket of snow and ice, then came the freezing wind chills and record-breaking low temperatures in New Orleans and other cities. Source
  • Two bodies found in home west of Toronto

    Canada News CTV News
    OAKVILLE, Ont. -- Police say they're investigating after two bodies were found in a home west of Toronto. Halton Regional Police released few details of the scene they found at the home in Oakville, Ont. Source
  • Bitcoin slumps below $10K US, then rebounds even as regulatory fears intensify

    World News CBC News
    Bitcoin skidded below $10,000 US on Wednesday, halving in value from its peak price, with investors gripped by fears regulators could clamp down on the volatile cryptocurrency that sky-rocketed last year. The price of bitcoin, the world's biggest and best known cryptocurrency, fell to as low as $9,315 US on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, the lowest since late November 2017 Source
  • Canadian reported kidnapped on road to capital in Nigeria

    World News CBC News
    Kidnappers have abducted one Canadian and one American in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, killing two police officers, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. They were ambushed by unknown gunmen around Kagarko on their way from the city of Kaduna to the capital Abuja, Mukhtar Aliyu, a spokesman for the Kaduna state police, said by phone. Source