Man steals plane and crashes after chase with fighter planes in Seattle

A 29-year-old suicidal man stole a Horizon Air Q400 plane from Seattle’s international airport for a short, dramatic flight before crashing on a nearby island.

The local Pierce County Sheriff, Paul Pastor, confirmed via Twitter that the man — believed to be an employee of Horizon Airlines — was acting alone when he made the unauthorised flight and was chased by F15 fighter planes. Local officials said the jets “were not involved in the crash”.

Caught on video, the chase ended when the turboprop 76-seater aircraft crashed on Ketron island, around 50km southwest of Seattle.

The stolen aircraft belonged to Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier, Horizon.

Video taken by a bystander showed the passenger airplane making an unlikely upside-down aerial loop, then flying low over Puget Sound before crashing into the sparsely populated Ketron Island 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.

The ABC reported air traffic control was in radio contact with the pilot right throughout the emergency.

Some of the audio was aired on the news bulletin.

“I got a lot of people that care about me and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I’m just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose…”

An airline employee “conducted an unauthorised takeoff” of an airplane carrying no passengers, then “crashed in south Puget Sound,” Sea-Tac Airport officials said on Twitter.

The stolen plane was a twin engine turboprop Q400 airplane belonging to its sister carrier Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines said on Twitter. It normally carries 76 passengers.

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“This is not a terrorist incident,” Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter.

“Confirmed info… this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved,” Troyer wrote The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old airline mechanic and Pierce county resident who “acted alone,” Troyer added, confirming that there were “no passengers on the plane” when it crashed.

The sheriff’s office also said that the F-15s, which were scrambled out of Portland, in the nearby state of Oregon, arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft “out of harms way and people on ground safe.” Horizon Air CEO Constance Van Muehlen issued a video statement describing the incident.

“We believe it (the plane) was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and no other passengers or crew were on board,” she said. “Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees.”

John Waldron, who took dramatic video of the stolen plane flying in a loop, told CNN that he was out for an evening stroll when he saw the two jet fighters following the turboprop airplane.

His first thought was that they were practicing for an air show. “So, I started to capture video, just because I thought it was, kind of bizarre,” he told CNN.

Waldron said it seemed that the jets were chasing down the airplane. “I thought this is really odd. Kept the video rolling.” Then the passenger plane pilot “did a complete loop … I couldn’t believe he recovered.” He estimates that the plane at its lowest point “was no less than 100 feet (30.5 meters) above the water.” Then the pilot “pulled — pretty much straight up. And kind of at an angle. And almost stalled the aircraft. Somehow he got it leveled back off. And then made his way down toward the island.” Waldron said that he was prepared to “run and take cover.” He briefly turned away, then turned back and saw the explosion as the plane crashed.

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“Saw a bright, pinpoint area of flame. And the smoke. I thought, oh, my god. I think he just crashed.”

One report said the man joked with traffic controllers during the short flight as F15s chased him that he was going to jail.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter the crash may have been caused by the mechanic “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills.”

It said the F15 fighter planes “made it within a few minutes of theft of plane. Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe.”

Alaska Airlines confirmed the crash tweeting, “We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorised takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA.

“We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.”

After the stolen Air Q400 took off without authorisation from Seattle’s SeaTac airport it went into lock down with all flights halted.

However Sea-Tac Airport has now confirmed that normal operations have resumed.

Airways magazine Aviation Beat correspondent Benjamin Bearup tweeted alleged air traffic control audio of the rogue pilot talking with traffic controllers.

In the audio a man can be heard saying, “I think I am going to try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good then I am going to go nose down and call it a night.”

Locals tweeted after seeing the plane flying up, then being chased by the jets and ending in the fiery crash.

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One person tweeted: “We saw it flying over the magnolia area around 8:10 ish and thought it was really odd since it was flying low and doing weird turns, how crazy!!”

One man wrote on Twitter, “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.”

Morgan Chesky, a reporter for KOMO News, wrote, “Per JBLM source: After being contacted by F-15’s, stolen plane began to nose dive, crashing in north Pierce County.”

Horizon has approximately 4000 employees and serves more than 45 cities in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Canada.

Local radio reports said firefighting helicopters were dispatched to Ketron Island to put out small fire burning after the stolen Q400 crashed on the south end.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Beyond Blue’s website.

– with AP


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