A suicidal mechanic stole a propeller airplane at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport on Friday and crashed it into a nearby island, authorities said.
The New York Post reports,
The craft belonging to Alaska Airlines’ regional carrier Horizon was swiped from SeaTac and crashed into Ketron Island southwest of Tacoma, officials said.
Authorities quickly determined this wasn’t an act of terrorism.
“Most terrorists don’t do loops over the water,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told reporters. “This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong.”
We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorized 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.
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) August 11, 2018
Two F-15 fighters were scrambled and all SeaTac flights were briefly grounded, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.
“I’m sorry to share with you this evening that at approximately 8 p.m. one of our Q400 airplanes made an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac airport. We believe it was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and that no other passengers or crew were on board,” Horizon Air Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen said in a taped statement.
“Shortly thereafter it crashed near Keatron Island by south Tacoma. Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees.”
When one of the F-15s made contact with the rogue pilot, the plane took a nosedive and crashed, a source at Joint Base Lewis–McChord Air Force Base told KOMO.
“Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.
In a live air-traffic control feed, ATC made contact with the rogue pilot and called him “Rich” and “Richard,” the Seattle Times reported.
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. pic.twitter.com/Ra4LcIhwfU
— bmbdgty (@drbmbdgty) August 11, 2018
The pilot said he was worried about his fuel.
UPDATE: Fire on the south end of Ketron Island is CONTAINED and approx 300’ x 150’. Water supply is a large issue on Ketron, making firefighting difficult. No homes are in this area, just brush. Crews remain on scene to fully extinguish the fire. pic.twitter.com/nebCHMIv06
— West Pierce Fire (@WestPierce) August 11, 2018
“I’m down to 2,100 (pounds),” he told the ATC. “I started at 30 something. … I don’t know what the burnage is like on takeoff, but it burned quite a bit faster than I expected.”
The calm air-traffic controller asked the pilot to land at Joint Base Lewis–McChord Air Force Base, but “Rich” feared he wouldn’t be greeted well there.
“Oh man,” the rogue pilot responded. “Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there. I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn’t want to do that. They probably have anti-aircraft.”
The air-traffic controller urged him to land at the base.
“They don’t have any of that stuff,” the air-traffic controller said. “We’re just trying to find a place for you to land safely.”
Fighter pilots reached the rogue pilot within minutes and steered him away from highly populated areas, the sheriff said.
“This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info .. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said.
Fire and rescue crews rushed to the crash scene.
“What we have is that someone stole a plane from Alaska Airlines,” Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer told the News Tribune.
“We have multiple 911 calls, over 30, reporting a fireball. Witnesses said and Alaska Airlines plane is going down. We have police boats, we have everybody responding, we’re trying to contact the military. We are sending resources and people. Hopefully it is just a stolen plane with one pilot and no passengers.”