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

  • N.L. woman heartbroken after local SPCA puts down three-day-old moose

    Canada News CTV News
    GANDER, N.L. -- A Newfoundland woman who bottle-fed a baby moose after it got lost in the woods without its mother is reeling after the local SPCA put the animal down. Brandi Calder says her husband was building a cabin in the woods near Glenwood when he heard a strange crying noise and discovered the three-day-old calf on its own with no sign of its mother. Source
  • Girls say Vancouver Island gender segregated hockey proposal is offside

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Is forcing gender segregation in minor hockey a human rights issue? A proposal before the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association (VIAHA) has some parents and girls up in arms asking the motion be put in the box. Source
  • Canada Post issues first ever Eid stamp ahead of Ramadan

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada Post has unveiled its first ever Eid stamp honouring Islam's most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, which begins Friday evening. Source
  • South Carolina man who chained woman in shipping container pleads guilty to killing 7

    World News CBC News
    A South Carolina man who admitted killing seven people over nearly 13 years while running a successful real estate business pleaded guilty Friday to seven counts of murder and a number of other charges.3rd body found on South Carolina man's property where woman was found chainedBody found on South Carolina property where man kept woman 'chained up like a dog'Todd Kohlhepp admitted his role in the deaths of seven people less than seven months after he was arrested when investigators checking on…
  • City council could pull Pride funding as Toronto police asked not to march in uniform

    Canada News CBC News
    If police officers can't march in this summer's Pride parade — in uniform — some councillors want the city to pull $260,000 away from Pride Toronto. The entire city council is set to make its decision by 2 p.m. Source
  • 'Sweaty' strippers demand more money for 'gross work' in settlement with club

    World News Toronto Sun
    These dancers want a little more than just a tip. The number of strippers joining a class-action settlement is growing in a case against Deja Vu gentleman's club. According to the Detroit Free Press, it's alleged the Michigan-based business is exploiting its exotic dancers by paying them only a few hundred dollars each. Source
  • Niki Ashton represents new breed of Canadian leader

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Earlier this week, the Toronto Sun published an op-ed entitled “NDP MP Niki Ashton has made her priorities clear.” While I disagree with virtually everything the op-ed sought to assert, I do agree with the title, as indeed, it is clear that the rights of the oppressed are the priority in Ashton’s distinguished political career. Source
  • Dozens of civilians killed in Syria airstrikes

    World News CBC News
    A fresh wave of airstrikes in eastern Syria killed at least 35 civilians including women and children, state media and a monitoring group reported Friday, as the UN human rights chief said civilians are increasingly paying the price of escalating attacks against ISIS in the country. Source
  • Jury in makeup artist murder trial hears accused's apparent taped confession

    Canada News CTV News
    A Montreal jury on Thursday watched the apparent taped confession of a 28-year-old former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who is on trial for murder in the 2009 death of a makeup artist. The body of Pina Rizzi, 47, was found burned and wrapped in a carpet in a shed behind an auto repair shop in Montreal on Aug. Source
  • Woman, boyfriend charged in fatal cocaine overdose of boy, 9

    World News CTV News
    YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- An Ohio woman and her boyfriend have been indicted for the cocaine overdose death of the woman's 9-year-old son. A Mahoning County grand jury on Thursday indicted 39-year-old Raenell Allen and 40-year-old Kevin Gamble. Source