Airline employee steals plane, takes off, then crashes

A Horizon Air employee who worked on the ground stole a plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), took off unauthorized and then later crashed late Friday, SeaTac airport said. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a suicidal male, age 29, was on board.

The FBI said there was no indication so far that the incident was terrorism-related.

The plane crashed on Ketorn Island in south Puget Sound outside Seattle. It’s a small island with about two dozen residents.  

Two military F-15s chased the plane but was they were not involved in the crash, KIRO-TV reports.  The Pierce County Sheriff”s Department said the sonic boom that was reported was Air Force and not an explosion.

According to the Pierce County Sheriff, preliminary information indicated a mechanic stole the plane. The Pierce County Sheriff tweeted the person was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island.”

The FBI said it is “communicating with local, state, and federal partners but it is too early for us to put out details on the rapidly evolving situation.”

The plane belonged to Horizon Air, which is owned by Alaska Airlines. In a statement, Alaska Airlines said they are “aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400.” The Q400 ix a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats, according to the AP.  

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the man “did something foolish and may well have paid with his life.”

The man’s condition after the crash wasn’t immediately known.

The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy.”

An air traffic controller called the man “Rich,” and tried to convince the man to land the airplane.

“There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” the controller says, reffering to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” the man responded, lateer adding “This is probably jail time for life, huh?”

Later the man said: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this…Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”

Flights out of Sea-Tac, the largest commercial airport in the Pacific Northwest, were temporarily grounded during the drama.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a 45-foot (14-meter) vessel to the crash scene after witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke in the air, Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said. Video showed fiery flames.

Royal King told The Seattle Times he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by two F-15s. He said he didn’t see the crash but saw smoke.

“It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie,” he told the newspaper. “The smoke lingered. You could still hear the F-15s, which were flying low.”

Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.

“Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard, along with all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees,” Horizon Air Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen said in a video posted on Twitter.

Spokesmen for the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration directed inquiries to local authorities.

This is a breaking story. It will be updated.

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