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

  • Memorial site: Alberta apologizes to families for cleaning up plane wreckage

    Canada News CTV News
    WHITECOURT, Alta. -- The province of Alberta is apologizing to the families of three people killed in a plane crash almost 65 years ago after cleaning up the wreckage without warning. A memorial site near Whitecourt, Alta. Source
  • Ontario PCs' Urgent Priorities Act to address hydro salaries, York University strike

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government has introduced legislation that, if passed, would give it sweeping new powers over executive compensation at Hydro One. The bill, dubbed the Urgent Priorities Act, was introduced today by Energy Minister Greg Rickford and would give the government authority to approve executive compensation at the utility. Source
  • 'This is shameful': Trump's news conference with Putin stuns fellow Republicans

    World News CBC News
    On a trip in which Donald Trump dumbfounded allies and his usual critics in the Democrat Party with comments concerning the European Union and British leaders, the U.S. president ended with a news conference performance at his first head-to-head summit with Russia President Vladimir Putin that had even some Republicans shaking their heads. Source
  • Lawmakers call Trump's performance 'bizarre,' 'shameful'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Key members of Congress, including some Republicans, are criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump's performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin as "bizarre," "shameful" and a "missed opportunity" to stand up to Russia. Source
  • Members of Trudeau's youth council urge cancellation of Kinder Morgan buyout

    Canada News CBC News
    Members of Justin Trudeau's youth council are urging the prime minister to withdraw his decision to buy Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. Sixteen past and present members of the youth council are releasing a letter to Trudeau expressing their "disappointment" in the Liberal government's move to buy the pipeline project for $4.5 billion. Source
  • Judge temporarily halts deportation of reunified families

    World News CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge on Monday ordered a temporary halt to any deportations of reunited families who were separated by the Trump administration after crossing the southwest border. The American Civil Liberties Union had asked Judge Dana Sabraw to delay deportations a week after reunification. Source
  • 'A class act': Ray Emery played in a Hamilton charity hockey game the night before he died

    Canada News CBC News
    Ray Emery was giving back to Hamilton and playing the game he loved the night before he died. The ex-NHL goalie was one of several current and former professional players who hit the ice as part of Hockey Night in Hamilton, a charity game that raised funds for Food4Kids. Source
  • Workers at Goderich salt mine accept deal to end 12-week strike

    Canada News CBC News
    The 12-week strike at the salt mine in Goderich, Ontario is over. Workers voted Monday to accept a three-year deal reached between Unifor Local 16-0 and the mine owner, Compass Minerals. The salt mine, the world's largest, employs more than 350 unionized workers. Source
  • Iran arrests 46 in fresh crackdowns on Instagram models

    World News CTV News
    TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of people in fresh crackdowns on models and associated colleagues posting "immoral images" online. The official IRNA news agency reported Monday that officials in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, some 1250 kilometres, or 630 miles, south of the capital Tehran, arrested eight women and 36 other people in the photography, beauty salons and wedding businesses who used Instagram to share what they considered indecent images and…
  • 'Kloe inside washer': Mom's post about girl trapped in front-loading machine goes viral

    World News CTV News
    A mother is warning other parents about the dangers of front-loaded laundry equipment after her three-year-old daughter became trapped in a new washing machine. Lindsey McIver’s story has garnered more than 250,000 shares on Facebook since July 11. Source