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Florida Mailman Who Flew Gyrocopter Onto Capitol Lawn Charged

The 61-year-old Florida mailman who flew a gyrocopter onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday has been charged with violating registration requirements involving aircraft and with violation of national defense airspace, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

The registration charge is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison; the airspace charge up to a year. Douglas Mark Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., also faces financial penalties, the statement said.

As we reported Wednesday, Hughes had told the Tampa Bay Times that he intended to make the flight in order to deliver letters to members of Congress highlighting institutional graft and the need for campaign finance reform.

He made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Thursday afternoon. He was released on personal recognizance, but with certain conditions:

"Hughes will be placed on home detention in Florida. He is barred from returning to the District of Columbia except for court appearances and meetings with his attorney. Any time that he is in the District of Columbia, Hughes must stay away from the Capitol, White House and nearby areas."

The statement said he will also be barred from operating an aircraft while on release, and has been asked to surrender his passport.

As our Newscast unit is reporting, some members of Congress are saying the landing on the West Lawn of the Capitol has exposed a serious security gap.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Hughes "literally flew under the radar" but added it was too soon to tell whether changes were needed to security procedures.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the matter is being taken seriously.

"Our security professionals at the Secret Service are constantly re-evaluating security postures, trying to learn lessons every day — from additional steps that can be taken to make the White House and the U.S. Capitol and the entire National Capital Region even more safe," he said.

Earnest said the low-speed, low-altitude flight made it difficult to detect the small gyrocopter on radar.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.