U.S. Capitol police said a small one-passenger gyroplane landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
One person was detained, Capitol Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider said by email.
Eyewitnesses in Capitol offices said they saw police running to the plane and taking the pilot away. The small ship landed in the middle of the West Front lawn, where the annual Christmas tree and Fourth of July concert venue are set up.
By about 1:45 pm, everything was calm, but the police blocked access to the lawn. Schneider sent out an email at about 3:13 pm stating that the sappers had cleared the ship and were preparing to move it to safety.
The streets around the scene were closed for most of the day, but reopened around 4:00 pm.
President Obama was in Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon but was briefed about the gyroplane incident, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
The Tampa Bay Times wrote about Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postman from Florida, who was planning to fly to the Capitol.
From their report:
His stated intent: To fly through the air at 45 mph at an altitude of about 300 feet in an ultralight gyrocopter towards Washington, D.C. towards protected airspace, where, if his plan works, it will land on the United States lawn. Capitol building and mail delivery.
Of course, Doug Hughes can be shot from the sky. He knows it. He thought about it day and night for over two years, struggling with the smallest details of his insane plan.
“No sane person,” he said, “would do what I do.”
Much more in the history of the Tampa Bay Times here.
Ben Montgomery, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times who wrote about the suspect Hughes and arrived at the scene after landing, called him “a mixture of P.T. Barnum and Paul Revere ”and decided to make a statement on campaign finance reform.
“We were comfortable communicating this story, knowing… that the authorities really knew about it, even if they didn’t know exactly when he was going to do it,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said that Hughes left Gettysburg, Pennsylvania this morning and that he feared for him.
“I thought they were going to shoot him down,” he said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the airspace over the Capitol is severely limited. Most aircraft are prohibited from flying through Washington territory, including the White House, the Capitol and the shopping center.
This zone, which extends from Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington to Stanton Park in northeast Washington, encompasses all flights below 18,000 feet. A similar exclusion zone exists around the United States Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence.
The FAA issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it is working with other agencies investigating the incident. The agency said the pilot did not contact air traffic controllers and did not allow entry into restricted airspace.
Jose Labarca, 55, was sitting in a shopping center on Third Street around 1:50 pm. when he spotted a small plane speeding west to east along the mall towards the Capitol, at about 35-40 feet.
Labarca said there is a US Postal Service sign on the tail of the helicopter. “It looked completely official,” he said. “I thought the Postal Service now has a helicopter service to the Capitol?”
Labarca and about a dozen others participated in a voting protest in DC known as the Pole of Freedom.
According to Larbarka, the pilot was about 60 years old and wore a mail-like uniform.
“When he flew past us, he gave us a thumb up,” he said.