A “suicidal” airline employee stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off from the Sea-Tac International Airport and was chased by military jets before crashing into a small island in the Puget Sound on Friday night, officials said.
Preliminary information suggests the crash occurred because the 29-year-old man was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said on Twitter that the man was suicidal and there was no connection to terrorism. The man’s condition after the crash wasn’t immediately known.
Video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous manoeuvres as the sun set on the Puget Sound. There were no passengers aboard. Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon. These employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane being chased by military aircraft before it crashed on Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Mr. Troyer said the F-15 aircraft scrambled out of Portland, Oregon, and were in the air “within a few minutes” and the pilots kept “people on the ground safe.”
The Sheriff’s Department said that they were working to conduct a background investigation on the Pierce County resident, whose name was not immediately released. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Saturday morning that President Donald Trump was “monitoring the situation.” He’s currently at his New Jersey golf club.
‘Just a broken guy’
The aircraft was stolen at around 8 p.m., and Alaska Airlines said it was in a “maintenance position” and not scheduled for a passenger flight. Horizon Air is part of the Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the man “did something foolish and may well have paid with his life.”
The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy.”
An air traffic controller called the man “Rich,” and tried to convince him to land the airplane.
“There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” the controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” the man responded, later adding, “This is probably jail time for life, huh?”
Later the man said — “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this…Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
Flights out of Sea-Tac, the largest commercial airport in the Pacific Northwest, were temporarily grounded during the drama.
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