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World

AFP
August 12, 2018

'Suicidal´ airport worker steals, crashes empty plane from Seattle airport

World

AFP
Sun, Aug, 18

San Francisco: A young, "suicidal" airport worker who stole an empty plane from Seattle-Tacoma Airport and took it on an hour-long flight before crashing did not commit any security violations, officials said Saturday.

Authorities also ruled out any link to terrorism in the incident, which took place late on Friday, and saw the man, who was killed in the crash, hold a conservation with an air traffic controller in which he seemed to apologize for what he was doing.

"He had access legitimately" to the plane said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport in the US state of Washington, adding that "no security violations were committed."

Video taken by a bystander showed the 76-seat plane making a big, slow loop-the-loop as F-15 fighter jets gave chase, then flying low over Puget Sound before crashing into Ketron Island, a sparsely-populated area in the northwestern US state of Washington.

Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon Air, told reporters that "to our knowlege, he didn´t have a pilot´s license."

"Commercial aircraft are complex machines," Beck said. "No idea how he achieved that experience."

The crash sparked a fire in the dense forest. Flames lit up the night as they spread from the burning wreckage to nearby trees. Officials said there were no victims on the ground.

"At this time, we believe he was the only one in the aircraft but of course, we haven´t confirmed that at the crash site," Jay Tabb, chief of the FBI´s Seattle division, told the press conference Saturday.

The stolen plane was a twin-engine turboprop Q400 belonging to Horizon Air, its parent company Alaska Airlines said on Twitter.

The Pierce County Sheriff´s office ruled out terrorism Friday.

- Joyrider or suicidal? -

"Most terrorists don´t do loops over the water," said Sheriff Paul Pastor. "This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong."

But Ed Troyer, who also works at the sheriff´s office, described him as "suicidal."

He was identified as a 29-year-old ground service agent called Rich or Richard, who lived locally and had acted alone. His full name was not given. Initial information had said he was an airline mechanic.

Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden told Saturday´s press conference that the man had worked for Horizon Air since February 2015.

According to Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck, his role involved "loading, unloading bags and cargo, tidying the aircraft and ... he was also a member of the tow team, which allowed him, qualified him to tow aircraft."

The plane was stolen at around 8:00 pm (0300 GMT Saturday) and crashed 90 minutes later, officials said.

The sheriff´s office said the F-15s arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft "out of harm´s way and people on the ground safe."

The fighter jets flew at supersonic speed, triggering a boom first taken to be an explosion, as they raced to intercept the plane.

President Donald Trump was briefed and the White House praised authorities´ quick response to the crisis.