Copter lands on Capitol grounds, sparking security concerns

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A small gyrocopter reportedly piloted by a Florida postal worker landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday, triggering a brief lockdown and raising questions about security on Capitol Hill.

The gyrocopter set down on the lawn shortly after 1 p.m. It appeared to be adorned with the logo of the United States Postal Service. 

Reporters and security personnel flocked to the scene, and police later said the pilot of the aircraft had been arrested. Charges were not immediately released. 

“‎The U.S. Capitol Police is investigating a gyrocopter with a single occupant that has landed on the grassy area of the West Lawn of t‎he U.S. Capitol,” a Capitol Police spokeswoman said. “The U.S. Capitol Police continues to investigate with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area.”

The Tampa Bay Times identified the pilot as Doug Hughes, 61, a postal worker from Florida. 

The Times had published a story on Wednesday about Hughes, who said he would land his gyrocopter on the lawn of the Capitol and deliver letters to members of Congress demanding campaign finance reform.

Hughes told the Times that he was particularly upset by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case, which paved the way for corporations and unions to donate unlimited funds to super-PACs. Advocates for campaign finance reform say the decision fundamentally changed the nature of politics and gave too much power to the very wealthy.

But Hughes said he decided to take action, rather than just writing about his political views, when his 24-year-old son killed himself and another person in a car crash, according to the Times.

Hughes told the newspaper he had been visited by the Secret Service before he put together the plan for his copter protest — but that nothing came of the interview.

The House Radio TV Gallery said crews were expecting Hughes and thought he would land on the eastern side of the Capitol.

Inside the Capitol, chaos briefly ensued in the TV gallery as reporters and plain-clothes police officers ran to the front windows for a view.

With the rotor still spinning, an officer approached the aircraft, got down on one knee and appeared to talk to the pilot. He was followed by several more members of the Capitol Police who removed the man and detained him.

An officer and a police dog then did a quick inspection of the craft. The dog smelled gasoline in the copter, prompting an inspection by a small Capitol Police robot.

An hour later, police said a bomb squad had cleared the gyrocopter and hazardous materials had been found. Police later moved the aircraft to a secure location.

President Obama was briefed on the incident, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

Jordan Fabian contributed to this breaking news report, which was last updated at 3:51 p.m.

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