Man steals plane from US airport, crashes it on island
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.
Law enforcement officials responding to the situation at Seattletacoma International Airport.