An airline mechanic stole a plane from a major US airport before crashing it into an island, officials said.
The Alaska Airlines plane was stolen without any passengers on board and took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state on Friday night before crashing near Ketron Island.
Preliminary information suggested that the 29-year-old mechanic stole the Horizon Air Q400 and the crash occurred because the person was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
The plane was chased by military aircraft, witnesses said.
Airport officials said the airline employee had “conducted an unauthorised takeoff without passengers”.
Alaska Airlines said in a Tweet: “We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA.
“We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.”
The US Coast Guard was sending a 45ft vessel to the crash scene after witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke in the air, Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said.
Update: from Steilacoom in the Comorat Passage neighborhood, heavy smoke and police boats/cars can be seen on Ketron Island pic.twitter.com/C9r8viCYGk
Pierce County Sheriff Public Information Officer Ed Troyer has said that officials believe the man who stole the plane is suffering from mental health issues.
He said in a statement on Twitter: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed information .. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.
“(He) Acted alone, he is a 29 year old Pierce County resident.”
Mr Troyer said that he is working with FBI and military personnel as they investigate what happened.
The sheriff’s department said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the man, whose name was not immediately released.
The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy”.
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West.
The Q400 ix a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.
More to follow…