A Republican Congressman from Utah said Wednesday that the pilot of a gyrocopter who landed the small aircraft on a Capitol building lawn last week "is lucky to be alive" and "should have been blown out of the air."
Florida mailman Doug Hughes, 61, triggered a security scare when he piloted the gyrocopter through restricted airspace and onto the West Lawn on April 15.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz told reporters following a briefing on the incident that Hughes traveled roughly 30 miles in restricted airspace, and he said he was frustrated that Congress wasn’t notified of the breach sooner. He called the breach "totally unacceptable" and "startling."
"He is lucky to be alive because he should have been blown out of the air and very well could have been. He wasn't," Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said after the closed-door, 45-minute briefing with the Secret Service and Capitol Police.
Hughes flew his United States Postal Service-branded gyrocopter to the Capitol to deliver 535 letters — one for each member of Congress — calling for campaign finance reform and end to the influence of money in politics.
Hughes was charged last week with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating restricted airspace and placed under house arrest. He could face up to four years in prison if convicted.
After Wednesday's briefing, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland and ranking member on the Oversight Committee, said security agencies admitted there was a "lack of communication" during the incident. He said it was a "wake-up call" and should be used a lesson to strengthen protocols. The committee will hold a hearing on April 29 on the matter.
Representatives from NORAD, the Federal Aviation Administration and Park Police did not attend Wednesday’s briefing — absences that Chaffetz called "sorely disappointing."
Chaffetz isn’t the only one who is disappointed. Hughes told The Associated Press over the weekend that he is frustrated the message behind his act doesn't seem to be getting through.
"We've got bigger problems in this country than worrying about whether the security around D.C. is ironclad," Hughes told The Associated Press. "We need to be worried about the piles of money that are going into Congress."
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