A US airline employee who stole an empty plane from an airport and crashed it into a nearby island has been described by police as “suicidal”.
Witnesses filmed the Horizon Air 76-seater plane performing loops and being pursued by two F-15 military jets near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state before it crashed in dense woodland on Ketron Island. The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old Pierce County resident and ground service employee who helps direct aircraft to gates.
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His condition is not yet known, but police say the “fiery crash” made it likely that he was “probably not [in] a good condition”.The sheriff’s office said they believed the crash was caused by “doing stunts in [the] air or lack of flying skills”.
It added: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info… this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.” The F-15 fighter jets were scrambled from Portland and “made it within a few minutes of theft of plane”, according to the sheriff’s office.
The airport worker “had access legitimately” to the plane before taking it on a flight and crashing, according to Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport. He added that “no security violations were committed”.
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The man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first manoeuvre the aircraft so he could board and then take off, authorities said. He was a ground service agent for Horizon Air for the last three and a half years, according to Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines.
John Waldron told CNN: “I started to capture video, just because I thought it was, kind of bizarre… [The plane did] a complete loop… I couldn’t believe he recovered.” Mr Waldron said the plane at its lowest point was no more than 100ft (30.5m) above the water.
He said the pilot then “pulled pretty much straight up and kind of at an angle”, adding he “somehow he got it levelled back off and then made his way down toward the island”.
As Mr Waldron was preparing to “run and take cover”, he looked back and “saw a bright, pinpoint area of flame”. Sources say his condition hasn’t been officially confirmed but it’s not looking good. A case of Grand Theft Auto taken too seriously.