The pilot of the gyrocopter that landed last week on the West Lawn at the U.S. Capitol “should have been blown out of the air,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said today , adding that Doug Hughes is “lucky to be alive” after pulling off the wild stunt.
“He is lucky to be alive because he should have been blown out of the air, and very well could have been,” Chaffetz, R-Utah, said. “If it was up to me, I would have taken care of the problem.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, agreed that there should be serious consequences for anyone threatening Washington, D.C. in a no-fly zone.
“The last thing we want is people get ideas that they can penetrate our defense systems,” Cummings, D-Maryland, said. “We’ve got to send a very strong message out there that if someone comes within that airspace, they’re going to have a problem, a major problem.”
Chaffetz and Cummings attended a classified briefing this afternoon from U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. Afterwards, Chaffetz confirmed he was told “multiple weapons were trained” on the gyrocopter as it approached the Capitol after traveling about 30 miles through restricted airspace, but a judgment call was made not to shoot it down.
“They have some big weapons to take something down if need be,” Chaffetz said. “Judgment calls were made to not take this person down, but I’m convinced that they could have taken him down if they had so chosen.”
For his part, Hughes told ABC News last week, he had made “every effort” to notify authorities ahead of his flight, and said he wasn’t worried about getting shot down.
But Utah Republican Chaffetz stressed that he wants “the men and women who are on the front lines to know that we got their back” if they have to make a decision to neutralize a threat.
“They’re going to have to make a split-second decision and protect the Capitol, protect the White House, and the people that are in here,” he said. “I want them to be taken down and taken down hard. And that’s the message that needs to get out.”
Chaffetz said that the Office of the Sergeant at Arms and U.S. Capitol Police admitted during the briefing to “human error” by not communicating to the Capitol community that the building was locked down, or that the incident was in progress.
“We never got an alert that something was happening at the Capitol. That’s inexcusable,” he said. “When you put part of the Capitol on lockdown and don’t communicate it? That’s just communications 101.”
Chaffetz announced the committee will hold a hearing next Wednesday to investigate further the incident. While the Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Park Police were all no-shows at the briefing today, Chaffetz demanded that each agency send a witness to the hearing next week.
“This is not an optional exercise,” he warned.
Hughes was under house arrest at his Ruskin, Florida, home following his flight from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C. He was charged with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace, and faces a potential four years in prison, plus fines.