UPDATE: 3:38 a.m. EDT – The suspect who stole a Horizon Q400 plane from SeaTac Airport, and proceeded to crash it on Ketron Island, Washington, on Friday did not survive, Alaska Airlines confirmed in a statement. The individual, who is believed to be the only one on the plane when he illegally took off from the airport, has not been identified and his remains are being examined by authorities. Anyone who believes they may have information regarding the identity of the suspect was requested to call 1-888-283-2153, which is a toll-free number.
“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 statement said.
“Military jets were scrambled from Portland, but it does not appear that these jets were involved in the crash of the Horizon aircraft,” it added.
UPDATE: 2:28 a.m. EDT: The Pierce County Sheriff has confirmed that the incident involving the airline employee – now confirmed to be working for Horizon Air – stealing a plane from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport was an isolated incident and did not have any terrorist ties.
Horizon Air Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen issued the following statement at a press conference Friday, following the incident.
Audio from the Air Traffic Control shows the suspect flying the stolen Q400 flight contacted the center to ask for suggestions to land the plane.
When the air controller told him that landing in the waters near Puget Sound would be the best option, he disagreed. “I don’t think I would be happy with you telling me I could land like that,” he was heard saying. The suspect then went on to talk about orcas swimming below the area he was flying, which clearly indicated his lack of sound mind.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee tweeted: “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.”
“I want to thank the Air National Guard from Washington and Oregon for scrambling jets to keep Washingtonians safe. Those pilots are trained for moments like tonight and showed they are ready and capable,” he added in another tweet.
An “airline employee” stole an aircraft from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night, flying it over Puget Sound and eventually crashing it on Ketron Island, Washington.
The plane in question was a Horizon Air Q400 that can carry about 76 passengers. However, no passenger was onboard at the time of the incident, Huffington Post reported.
All planes were temporarily grounded at the airport and two F-15 Eagles were deployed in response to the incident. The military airplanes followed the stolen airplane, causing it to head upward as it flew over Puget Sound. The pilots of the F-15 Eagles then witnessed the airplane go down, NBC News reported.
One Twitter user, who recorded a video of the stolen aircraft while still up in the sky, said the plane did a “loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay” before being chased by the military jets.
“An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed,” the SeaTac Airport tweeted.
Although not many details were revealed about the person who stole the airplane, the Pierce County department described him as a 29-year-old “suicidal male” who “acted alone.” It is unclear if the suspect had any experience of flying planes or if he was alive post-crash.
Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said one of the USCG’s 45-foot rescue boats was headed to the island which is located between Tacoma and Olympia after a plume of smoke was seen coming out of the crash site.
Flockerzi added that the reports of the theft came in at 11:30 p.m. EDT and 15 minutes later, the smoke was noticed.
“We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more,” Alaska Airlines tweeted.
Although many passengers had a delayed deplaning due to planes being stranded on the runway as the situation at SeaTac airport was being resolved, they said they did not mind the delay since it was in the interest of their safety.
“I felt like we were on the ground and we were safe, we weren’t in the sky while something was going on. So it really wasn’t that bad –- to me,” Quincy Carr, who was flying into town to perform on a Norwegian cruise line ship and had to wait an hour to get off his plane, said. “But I do know there were people on the plane that were kind of panicked.”
Another passenger onboard a flight from Philadelphia said people on his plane were left clueless as to the specifics of the unfolding situation at the airport since the flight crew told them to wait for 40 minutes inside the plane but never gave them any explanation for the delay.
” … Of course everyone’s pulling out their phone and finding out what’s going on, and seeing this crazy story,” he said.