An airline mechanic stole an Alaska Airlines plane without any passengers and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport Friday night before crashing near Ketron Island, officials said.
The man, who was called Rich by air traffic control personnel, is an Alaska Air Horizon employee who allegedly stole a Horizon Air Q400, shutting down the airport temporarily.
Preliminary information had suggested it was stolen by a mechanic.
People on Twitter who were following the aviation audio reported that the man attempted a "barrel roll" with the plane at one point - or at least claimed he was going to do so. He described him as a white male, age 29, who may have mental health problems.
One user tweeted, "Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, nearly crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed".
Sea-Tac operations have resumed as normal, airport officials said; flights had been grounded during the incident.
Two F-15 jets were scrambled in response to the stolen plane from the Oregon Air National Guard in Portland, Oregon. Unlike cars, there are no keys needed for the door or to turn on the plane, he said.
He crashed almost an hour after the plane was taken from a maintenance area, though officials said that it did not appear that the fighter jets were involved in the crash of the aircraft.
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"Yesterday's events will push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can help prevent it from ever happening again, at our airline or any other", Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group, said today during a news briefing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I was thinking, like, I'm going to have this moment of serenity, take in all the sights.
He said he didn't want to disappoint them but that he was "just a broken guy, got a dew screws loose, I guess". "Well I would hope it would be for a guy like me". However, "Rich" also later tells them that he can't figure out how to pressurize the plane and that he's getting "lightheaded" after having vomited at least once.
Witnesses on the ground also said the plane was being followed by military aircraft before it crashed. "I've played video games before, so I know what I'm doing a little bit". Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there.
He crashed the plane in a wooded area of Ketron Island, 25 miles south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
No records for a pilot license for the man thought to have stolen the plane could be found on the Federal Aviation Administration website. "Never really knew it until now".
The pilot, identified as "Rich", comes across as excitable, confused, and even apologetic in a conversation with the control tower. Investigators confirmed he was a 3-and-a-half year employee for Horizon Air who worked as a ground service agent.
"I've got a lot of people that care about me", he said. However, the better method of preventing this kind of scenario is to make sure joyriders or terrorists can't simply swipe the plane at whim. "I don't wanna, I don't know". "We are working back ground on him now", the sheriff's department tweeted shortly before 10 p.m.
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