ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (AP) -- A Florida postal worker who piloted a gyrocopter onto the U.S. Capitol lawn alerted the Secret Service beforehand because he was afraid he would get shot down, a friend said.
Doug Hughes, 61, made the flight to call attention to his belief that campaign finance laws are too week. His friend, Mike Shanahan, called him "a patriot" who first came up with the idea about a year ago.
Hughes called Shanahan on Wednesday and said he was in the Washington, D.C. area and ready to take off, Shanahan was quoted by The Tampa Bay Times as saying. Shanahan said he feared law enforcement would shoot down the small aircraft emblazoned with the Postal Service logo, so he alerted the U.S. Secret Service. The gyrocopter landed about half a city block from the Capitol building.
"I was scared to death they were going to kill him," Shanahan said.
Hughes steered his tiny aircraft onto the Capitol's West Lawn after flying through restricted airspace around the National Mall, police said. A Senate aide told The Associated Press the Capitol Police knew of the plan shortly before Hughes took off. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation.
Hughes is a married father of four who wanted to "spotlight corruption in DC and more importantly, to present the solution(s) to the institutional graft," reads a statement on his website, The Democracy Club.
In an interview with the Times before his flight, Hughes told the paper he sees himself as a showman patriot.
The stunt, which led to breathless reports on national cable TV networks, involved delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress to draw attention to campaign finance corruption.
Hughes has worked for the Postal Service for 11 years.
"As I have informed the authorities, I have no violent inclinations or intent," Hughes wrote. "An ultralight aircraft poses no major physical threat -- it may present a political threat to graft. I hope so. There's no need to worry -- I'm just delivering the mail."
He said he told the Times about his stunt because he feared being hurt or arrested. He also said he kept his Russian-born wife and 12-year-old daughter in the dark about his plan.
Hughes has three other children, including one son who took his own life by driving his car head-on into another vehicle, killing both himself and the other driver nearly three years ago. Hughes said his son's suicide was a catalyst for him.
About two hours after Hughes landed, police announced that a bomb squad had cleared his gyrocopter and nothing hazardous had been found. The authorities then moved it off the Capitol lawn to a secure location.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot had not been in contact with air traffic controllers and the FAA didn't authorize him to enter restricted airspace.