SEATTLE: A suicidal airline mechanic stole and later crashed an empty passenger plane from the Seattle-Tacoma airport.
Local authorities quickly ruled out terrorism as a motive for the incident, and said the F-15s “were not involved in the crash.”
An airline employee “conducted an unauthorized takeoff” of an airplane carrying no passengers at the major airport in the northwestern US state of Washington. The person had crashed by “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills”, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old Pierce County resident who “acted alone,” the sheriff’s office added, confirming that there were “no passengers on the plane” when it crashed.
The Q400 is a twin-engine propeller plane made by Bombardier and sometimes referred to as a Dash-8. Horizon Air is a division of Alaskan that flies short routes in the western US.
The aircraft “crashed in south Puget Sound,” Sea-Tac Airport said, adding that normal operations at the transport hub had resumed after a pause. The emergency shut down the airport, known as Sea-Tac, and the surrounding skies.
“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 said.
Recordings of an air traffic control conversation with the 29-year-old pilot supported the suicide claim
Alaska Airlines on Twitter said the airplane belonged to its sister carrier Horizon Air.
A relevant piece: A “suicidal” mechanic stole an empty passenger plane from the Seattle-Tacoma airport late Friday, took it for a brief flight that included an aerial loop, then crashed it in an incident official said was unrelated to terrorism.
Two military F-15s were scrambled to chase the stolen plane, but “were not involved in the crash,” local officials said.
Video taken by a bystander showed the passenger airplane making an unlikely upside-down 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. Officials said there were no victims on the ground.
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.
“This is not a terrorist incident,” Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter.
The plane thief “is confirmed a suicidal male,” Troyer wrote. “We know who he is.”
The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old airline mechanic and local 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 arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft “out of harm’s way and people on the ground safe.”
Horizon Air chief operating officer Constance von 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.”
The plane was stolen at around 8 pm (0300 GMT Saturday) and crashed 90 minutes later, officials said.
No security violations’ in Seattle plane theft: airport official: Airport officials on Saturday said a young ground service agent who stole an empty plane from Seattle-Tacoma airport the prior evening did so “legitimately” before taking it on a flight and crashing to his death. “He had access legitimately” to the plane said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport in the US state of Washington, adding that “no security violations were committed.”