A “suicidal” airline employee stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport and was chased by military jets before crashing into a small island in the Puget Sound on Friday night, officials said.
Preliminary information suggests the crash occurred because the 29-year-old man was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said on Twitter the man was suicidal and there was no connection to terrorism.
Video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on the Puget Sound. There were no passengers aboard. Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic but Alaska Airlines 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.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane being chased by military aircraft before it crashed on Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Troyer said F-15 aircraft scrambled 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 Pierce County resident, whose name was not immediately released.
The aircraft was stolen about 8 p.m. Alaska Airlines said it was in a “maintenance position” and not scheduled for a passenger flight. Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.