A passenger plane crashed on an island in Puget Sound on Friday night, not long after a suspect conducted an “unauthorized take-off” from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state, officials said.
Preliminary information says a “mechanic” stole a Horizon Air Q400 and the crash occurred because the person was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
Airport officials confirmed via social media that no passengers were aboard the plane. They also said that operations at the airport had resumed after being temporarily halted.
The unauthorized pilot was described by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department as a “suicidal male.” Some unconfirmed reports on social media said he was believed to be an airline mechanic.
“Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence . We are working back ground on him now,” the sheriff’s department tweeted shortly before 10 p.m. Pacific time.
Around 9:15 p.m. PDT, Alaska Airlines tweeted: “We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more.”
Early reports indicated the suspect was speaking to air traffic controllers.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a message soon after the take-off:
“We can’t confirm anything at this time. We’re trying to get accurate information about what is actually going on. Without confirming anything, a stolen aircraft would be a security issue.
“The FAA is not a security agency, although we work closely with other government agencies on security issues.”
Authorities reportedly tried to intercept the plane with an F-15 aircraft.
The U.S. Coast Guard was sending a 45-foot vessel to the crash scene after witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke in the air, Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said.
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. The Q400 ix a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.
Tower audio identified the suspect as “Rich.”
Air travelers and residents able to see the plane in flight were quick to post messages on social media.
“Apparently someone stole a plane from SeaTac?” wrote one Twitter user. “Saw two fighter jets fly overhead then smoke.”
“Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times,” wrote another user.
This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.