Plane stolen by 'suicidal' employee crashes near Seattle

Geneva Stokes
August 11, 2018

"Was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island", the sheriff said on Twitter.

Police in a Seattle-area county in Washington said there was no terrorism link after a man stole a plane with no passengers and flew it into the Puget Sound on Friday night following a chase by military jets.

The plane was taken by a 29-year-old Sumner man about 8 p.m. and crashed on Ketron Island, near Steilacoom, about 90 minutes later, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. There were no passengers aboard.

Two F-15s fighter jets pursued the plane but were not involved in the crash, local TV station KIRO7 reported.

"Okay this insane. A pilot on the plane in front of us just went rogue and took off on an empty plane bypassing orders from the tower", tweeted Ben Schaechter, a passenger on an airplane that was taxiing to take off before the incident.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.

Air traffic control recordings have revealed the eerie final conversation from the man who stole an Alaska Airlines airplane at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He was probably killed in the crash, the sheriff said.

The mechanic was an employee of Horizon Air, a regional airline based in Seattle-Tacoma airport.

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.

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Gov. Jay Inslee thanked the Air National Guard from Washington and OR for scrambling jets and said in a statement "there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident".

On the air-traffic control feed, the air-traffic controller can be heard trying to persuade the man, who he addressed as Rich and Richard, to land safely at a nearby airstrip. I would like to apologise to each and every one of them.

"They don't have any of that stuff", the air-traffic controller assures him.

He said he didn't want to disappoint them but that he was "just a broken guy, got a dew screws loose, I guess". "I mean, I would hope it is, for a guy like me".

"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?"

Video footage on social media showed the plane flying above the Seattle area with an F15 fighter jet following it. Witnesses reported seeing the plane being chased by military aircraft before it crashed on Ketron Island, about 40 kilometres south-west of Tacoma, Washington.

Although the identity of the man is not known, authorities have confirmed that he was in charge of directing aircraft for takeoff, gate approach and de-icing planes. "Never really knew it until now". Military jets were scrambled from Portland, but it does not appear that these jets were involved in the crash of the Horizon aircraft. Prior to crashing, the aircraft was filmed conducting extreme maneuvers over the Puget Sound, including a barrel roll and inverted vertical dive culminating in a high g pull-out just a few feet above the water's surface.

Spokesmen for the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration directed inquiries to local authorities.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement early Saturday that President Trump was briefed on the incident and is "monitoring the situation".

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