Man steals plane from US air­port, crashes it on is­land

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION - Agence France­presse let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

SANFRANCISCO: A young me­chanic de­scribed as sui­ci­dal stole an empty pas­sen­ger plane from Seat­tle-ta­coma Air­port, took it on an hour-long flight that in­cluded a hair-rais­ing loop as F-15 fighter jets gave chase, then crashed, killing him­self.

Of­fi­cials ruled out any link to ter­ror­ism in the in­ci­dent, which took place late on Fri­day, and saw the man hold­ing a con­ser­va­tion with an air traf­fic con­troller in which he seemed to apol­o­gise for what he was do­ing.

Video taken by a by­stander showed the 76-seat plane mak­ing a big, slow loop-the-loop, then fly­ing low over Puget Sound be­fore crash­ing into Ketron Is­land, a sparsely-pop­u­lated area in the north­west­ern US state of Wash­ing­ton.

The crash sparked a fire in the dense for­est. Flames lit up the night as they spread from the burn­ing wreck­age to nearby trees. Of­fi­cials said there were no vic­tims on the ground. The stolen plane was a twin-en­gine tur­bo­prop Q400 be­long­ing to Hori­zon Air, its par­ent com­pany Alaska Air­lines said on Twit­ter.

The Pierce County Sher­iff’s of­fice ruled out ter­ror­ism. “Most ter­ror­ists don’t do loops over the wa­ter,” said Sher­iff Paul Pas­tor. “This might have been a joyride gone ter­ri­bly wrong.” But Ed Troyer, who also works at the sher­iff’s of­fice, de­scribed him as “sui­ci­dal.”

He was iden­ti­fied as a 29-yearold air­line me­chanic called Rich or Richard, who lived lo­cally and had acted alone. His full name was not given. The sher­iff’s of­fice said the F-15s ar­rived min­utes af­ter the plane was stolen and kept the air­craft “out of harm’s way and peo­ple on the ground safe.”

The fighter jets flew at su­per­sonic speed, trig­ger­ing a boom first taken to be an ex­plo­sion, as they raced to in­ter­cept the plane.

In a video state­ment, Hori­zon Air’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Con­stance von Muehlen said the plane was taken by one of its em­ploy­ees. “We be­lieve (the plane) was taken by a sin­gle Hori­zon Air em­ployee and no other pas­sen­gers or crew were on board,” she said. The plane was stolen at around 8:00 pm lo­cal time and crashed 90 min­utes later, of­fi­cials said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was briefed and the White House praised au­thor­i­ties’ quick re­sponse to the cri­sis. In a con­ver­sa­tion with the con­trol tower, the pi­lot, who iden­ti­fied him­self only as “Rich,” came across as ex­cita- ble, con­fused, and even apolo­getic. “Con­grat­u­la­tions, you did it,” the con­trol tower tells him, ac­cord­ing to an au­dio feed aired on CNN. “Let’s turn around the air and land it and not hurt any­body on the ground.”

“I don’t know, man,” the pi­lot an­swers. “I don’t want to. I was kind of hop­ing that was go­ing to be it, you know.” He says he had put some fuel in the plane “to go check out the Olympics”, the Olympic Moun­tains which lie about 160 km away.

AP

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials re­spond­ing to the sit­u­a­tion at Seat­tle­ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

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