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  1. Florida Politics

Congressional hearing on Florida mailman's Capitol gyrocopter stunt begins at 10 a.m.

Witnesses gather before the start of Wednesday's congressional hearing on Doug Hughes' gyrocopter landing on the U.S. Capitol lawn. From left are U.S. House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, NORAD/USNORTHCOM Commander Adm. William Gortney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert G. Salesses, Fedral Aviation Administration administrator Michael Huerta, U.S. Secret Service director Joseph Clancy and U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean. [ALEX LEARY   |  Times]
Witnesses gather before the start of Wednesday's congressional hearing on Doug Hughes' gyrocopter landing on the U.S. Capitol lawn. From left are U.S. House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, NORAD/USNORTHCOM Commander Adm. William Gortney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert G. Salesses, Fedral Aviation Administration administrator Michael Huerta, U.S. Secret Service director Joseph Clancy and U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean. [ALEX LEARY | Times]
Published Apr. 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — The gyrocopter flown by a Ruskin man into restricted airspace "did not register on radar as a threat and, therefore, was not raised as a concern among our federal partners," the U.S. Capitol Police chief will testify Wednesday before lawmakers outraged by the breach.

The official, Kim Dine, also said in advance written testimony that widespread notice of the April 15 incident was not issued due to the "extremely short time frame" between a Capitol lockdown order and the decision to lift the lockdown.

Still, officials are likely to face tough questions at the 10 a.m. hearing before the House Oversight Committee. It's titled "Flying Under the Radar: Securing Washington, D.C., Airspace."

The gyrocopter was flown by Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal carrier who said he wanted to make a point about campaign finance reform and deliver letters to lawmakers. His aircraft took off from Gettysburg, Pa., and flew across 30 miles of restricted airspace before landing on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

Authorities say "multiple weapons" were aimed at Hughes' aircraft but it was not brought down out of fear of harming people on the National Mall. Details on the placement of the weapons have not been disclosed.

Hughes, who has been charged with two federal crimes, "is lucky to be alive" and "should have been blown out of the air," the oversight chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said last week.

Aside from Dine, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Secret Service, the U.S. Park Police and the House of Representatives are slated to testify.

"Since the event, I have ordered the chief of U.S. Capitol Police to utilize the House notification system to alert members, staff — and to the extent possible, visitors — of events that could potentially be a threat," wrote House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving.

"The Capitol Police sent notifications only to the Senate community," he added. "This included failing to notify the House community of an albeit short Capitol lockdown. I have ordered the chief never to allow this to happen again."

Irving and Dine stressed that officials promptly responded to the downed gyrocopter, arrested Hughes, and ensured that the craft was harmless.

"The incident on April 15, reminds us all that the greatest asset of the Capitol — its very openness and accessibility — can at times be its greatest liability," Irving wrote. "However, every incident allows us to refine our capabilities, enhance our training, and be better prepared for every eventuality."

The Oversight Committee last week held a private briefing on the incident, but the FAA, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Park Police did not attend, upsetting Chaffetz.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., called it a "wakeup call" for the agencies to figure out what went wrong.