A 29-year-old airline worker at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hijacked an airplane Friday night, performed aerobatic maneuvers, and then crashed into sparsely populated Ketron Island as two National Guard F-15 fighter jets followed closely behind.
No passengers were aboard the 76-seat Horizon Air Q400 turboprop plane stolen by the ground service agent from Pierce County, as he conducted an “unauthorized takeoff” from the airport.
The airport’s tower identified the suspect as “Rich,” who crashed on Ketron island in a wooded area, avoiding hitting any structures according to Alaska Airlines.
The F-15 fighter jets scrambled by the National Guard were flying so quickly that one of them broke the sound barrier, causing a sonic boom that some residents mistook for an explosion, according to the sheriff’s department.
Dispelling rumors that the man had been shot down, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement “The responding fighter pilots flew alongside the aircraft and were ready to do whatever was needed to protect us, but in the end the man flying the stolen plane crashed on Ketron Island.”
“Those pilots are trained for moments like tonight and showed they are ready and capable,” Inslee said.
During the hijacking, the pilot can be heard communicating with air traffic control as recorded by Twitter user Jimmy Thomson (@jwsthomson).
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” said the man. “It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”
In another segment, an air traffic control operator tells another individual “Right now he’s just flying around, and he just needs some help controlling the aircraft,” to which the man interjected “Nah, I mean, I don’t need that much help; I’ve played some video games before.” (Full audio here)
The man then says “Ah, minimum wage. We’ll just chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a little bit with the higher-ups.”
“This is probably jail time for life, huh?” said the man. “I would hope it is for a guy like me.”
“Oh, Richard,” said an air-traffic controller, “We’re not going to worry or think about that. But could you start a left turn please?”
At another point, the man says “I’m gonna land it, in a safe kind of manner. I think I’m gonna try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes good, I’m just gonna nose down and call it a night.“
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office directed inquiries to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, indicating federal law enforcement officials will be taking a primary role in the investigation into how the tragic heist unfolded.
The plane had been in a “maintenance position” and was not scheduled for passenger flight when it was stolen, according to a statement from Alaska Airlines.
“Our hearts are with the family of the individual on board as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees,” Horizon Air Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen said in a video statement. –LA Times
According to a job posting on Horizon Air’s website, ground service agents “play a critical role to keep our flights running smoothly and safely. Whatever the weather, you’ll direct aircraft for takeoff, gate approach, load and unload luggage, and operate equipment to de-ice planes in the winter. “
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