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Authorities probe how 'suicidal' employee could steal plane

AP  |  Olympia (US) 

Investigators worked to find out how a "suicidal" employee stole an empty turboprop plane, took off from and crashed into a small island in the Sound after being chased by military jets that were quickly scrambled to intercept the aircraft.

The last night crash happened because the 29-year-old man was "doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills," the Sheriff's Department said. The man, who was believed killed, wasn't immediately identified.

The man was suicidal, and there was no connection to terrorism, Ed Troyer, a for the sheriff's department, said on

Video showed the Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on the Sound. There were no passengers aboard. Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon. Those employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.

The plane was pursued by military aircraft before it crashed on Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Troyer said aircraft took off out of Portland, Oregon, and were in the air "within a few minutes" and the pilots kept "people on the ground safe." The sheriff's department said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the resident.

The aircraft was stolen about 8 p.m. said it was in a "maintenance position" and not scheduled for a passenger flight. is part of and flies shorter routes throughout the

The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.

Pierce said the man "did something foolish and may well have paid with his life." The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is "just a broken guy." An 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 says, referring 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, later 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.

said Saturday morning that is "monitoring the situation." He's currently at his golf club.

The sent a 45-foot (14-meter) vessel to the crash scene. Video showed fiery flames amidst trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry.

No structures on the ground were damaged, said. said in a statement early Saturday morning that the was "working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened." The was coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, he said. told he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by two 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." Gov. thanked the Air from and for scrambling jets and said in a statement "there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident."" "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," Inslee said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, August 11 2018. 22:15 IST
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