U.S. Charges Florida Man Who Landed Helicopter Near U.S. Capitol

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - A Florida man who caused a major security scare after landing a small helicopter on the west lawn of the U.S. capitol was charged with two criminal offenses and then released from U.S. custody on Thursday pending trial.

Douglas Mark Hughes, 61, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, was charged with unlawfully operating a unregistered aircraft and violating national defense airspace.

He faces up to four years in prison.

Hughes was arrested on Wednesday afternoon after he flew his "gyro copter" over Washington and landed on the Capitol grounds.

Aircraft are banned from flying in the area of the Capitol and the White House without permission.

Attending the hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia still dressed in his blue postal service jacket, Hughes spoke only to confirm his name and accept the conditions of his release.

Hughes told the Tampa Bay Times before his trip that he planned to deliver letters to members of Congress to draw attention to the need for campaign finance reform.

Police temporarily closed streets near the Capitol while they investigated and removed the aircraft, which resembled a small open-air helicopter with a single rotor on top.

Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson said Hughes, of Ruskin, Florida, was free to return to his home state, but once there would be subject to home detention.

In addition, he must not operate any aircraft, stay away from the U.S. Capitol and White House areas in Washington DC, surrender his expired passport, and report once a week to a pre-trial office in Tampa.

The U.S. government did not oppose his release.

Hughes is due back in DC for a preliminary hearing on Friday May 8th at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested on Thursday that, in light on the incident, the Secret Service and others would reevaluate procedures, but added that Hughes had "not indicated the desire to harm anybody."

"The intent of the individual is relevant," he said. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir. Additional reporting by Susan Heavey. Editing by Andre Grenon)



U.S. Capitol Photos