Breaking News Emails
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have more questions than answers one day after a gyrocopter landed on the West Front of the Capitol.
“How did it happen? How did the helicopter get through? Why weren't there alarm bells that went off? Why wasn't it intercepted? Did we know about it?” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a top Senate Democrat, pondered to reporters Thursday.
Douglas Hughes, a rural letter carrier from Florida, touched down on the Capitol lawn Wednesday afternoon with letters for each of the 535 members of Congress protesting campaign finance reform.
He was able to fly the single-person aircraft from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, all the way down to the National Mall in DC, passing the White House and Washington Monument before landing at the Capitol.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday night that the pilot should have been shot down.
“He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our homeland. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already,” he said. “And if somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril.”
"This individual apparently, literally, flew in under the radar."
The incident, which House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called “stunning,” raises serious questions about homeland security and the ability for agencies to monitor and protect the restricted airspace above the White House and Capitol.
“This individual apparently, literally, flew in under the radar,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson -- on the Hill Thursday to help rally support for the department and boost morale – told NBC News.
The Committee on House Administration said in a statement they are working with the Capitol Police and Sergeant at Arms to review this incident.
“Frankly, the individual is fortunate that this stunt did not cost him his life. Bottom line, this small aircraft should have never been able to access protected airspace and land on the U.S. Capitol Grounds - and this cannot happen again,” the statement read.
But lawmakers here on the Hill say there is a clear gap in security.
“I think again, this is another wakeup call,”Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Ranking Member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told NBC News.
“We can send a man to the moon we ought to be able to detect these types of vehicles coming onto the capitol grounds,” Cummings proclaimed.
The Oversight Committee is responsible for overseeing the United States Secret Service – one of the agencies in question regarding the incident.
Cummings – who said he was never notified by Capitol Police that there was an incident but rather had to read about it in news reports -- said he spoke with USSS Director Joe Clancy Thursday morning about the incident and has dire concerns.
“[Clancy] also told me that on the day of the incident that they got a call -- that is the Secret Service in Washington -- got a call inquiring about airspace around the Capitol and the White House and they didn't follow up on that…they didn't think anything of it,” the congressman said, recalling his phone conversation with the Director.
“We've got a well-coordinated federal response to dealing with issues of those who penetrate the restricted airspace,” DHS Secretary Johnson said when asked who should be in charge of the airspace over downtown DC.
The Secret Service interviewed Hughes, the gyrocopter pilot, back in October 2013 about his plans but found him not to be a threat.