A Horizon Air passenger plane has crashed on Ketron Island south of Seattle after being stolen by an airline employee at SeaTac Airport around 8 pm on Friday.
There were no passengers or crew on board.
A post on social media from the airport states:
“An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound.”
Witnesses reported seeing the Bombardier Q400 flying low and being pursued by two fighter jets.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirms it launched 2 F-15C alert aircraft from Portland, who proceeded to intercept the Q400 in the vicinity of McCord AFB.
It says The fighters were directed to fly supersonic to expedite the intercept.
“The stolen aircraft initially tracked south from Seattle-Tacoma. NORAD fighters were working to redirect the aircraft out over the Pacific Ocean when it crashed on the Southern tip of Ketron Island in the Southern end of Puget Sound. NORAD fighters did not fire upon the aircraft.”
The Pierce County Sheriff reports that the 29-year-old man flying the plane crashed because he “was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills.”
”This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info .. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
Horizon Air is owned by Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. It issued this statement;
“Alaska Airlines believes a ground service agent employed by Horizon Air was the individual responsible for flying the Horizon Q400 without clearance from Sea-Tac International Airport.
The plane, which was taken from a maintenance position and was not scheduled for passenger flight, crashed about an hour later in a wooded area on Ketron Island in rural Pierce County. No ground structures were involved at the crash site.”
The man, who’s identity has yet to be released, was addressed as “Rich” in audio recordings with air traffic controllers, said he didn’t want to land at a nearby military base.
He told them, “Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there.”
During another part of the exchange, the man said he was concerned he was going to run low on fuel.
Later, he said he’s “got a lot of people that care about me.”
He said he didn’t want to disappoint them but that he was “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
The incident forced all departures and arrivals to be halted at the busy airport for some time but have since resumed.
Some Seattle-bound flights were diverted to Vancouver.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee posted an update on Twitter;
”There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight’s tragic incident of a stolen Horizon Airline plane. 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.”
The FBI in Seattle tweeted that it continues to work with state, local, and federal partners to gather a complete picture of what transpired.
Ketron Island, population 24, is located approximately 45 kilometres SSW of SeaTac International Airport.
It is primarily forested and undeveloped, with a few homes toward the north end of the island. There are no community or public facilities, so crews are being ferried across from the mainland to help battle fires caused by the crash.
West Pierce Fire reported early Saturday that the fire, on the south end of the island, is contained and approx 300’ x 150’ in size.
They say water supply is a large issue making firefighting difficult.
“No homes are in this area, just brush. Crews remain on scene to fully extinguish the fire.”
With files from AP