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A stolen plane crashed Friday on a sparsely populated island near Seattle after an “unauthorized takeoff” from Sea-Tac Airport, authorities said. No passengers were on board.
Multiple law-enforcement sources told NBC News that the plane was followed by military aircraft that scrambled in the skies above Puget Sound as the man piloting the stolen plane did loops over the water.
A plume of smoke was reported on or near Ketron Island, Wash., after authorities received reports that a plane was stolen, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Sea-Tac Airport tweeted, “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 Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said in a tweet that the Horizon Air employee was a 29-year-old “suicidal male” from the area who “acted alone.”
At a news conference Friday night, Sheriff Paul A. Pastor described the situation as the theft of a prop passenger plane by someone who apparently meant no harm to anyone else.
“Most terrorists don’t do loops over the water,” he said. “So, there’s no indication there was a terrorist act, an attempt to attack — this this might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong.”
Pastor described the man as performing “air stunts.”
Authorities said they did not believe there were any other injuries or casualties, though Pastor did not confirm the pilot died.
“We believe it was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and that no other passengers or crew were onboard,” Horizon Air chief operating officer Constance von Muehlen said in a statement. ” … Our hearts are with the families of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees.”
The unauthorized takeoff occurred about 8 p.m., Alaska Airlines tweeted. The plume of smoke on the island was reported about 15 minutes later, Flockerzi said.
The incident kept planes stranded on the tarmac at Sea-Tac and passengers waiting on board after landing.
Quincy Carr, who was flying in to town to perform on a Norwegian cruise line ship, said the pilot told passengers on his plane that there was an incident and they were stuck on the tarmac for about an hour.
“I felt like we were on the ground and we were safe, we weren’t in the sky while something was going on,” he said. “So it really wasn’t that bad — to me,” Carr told a reporter from NBC affiliate KING5 of Seattle at after getting off the plane.
“But I do know there were people on the plane that were kind of panicked,” he said.
Another passenger flying in from Philadelphia told the station that travelers were grounded on his flight for about 40 minutes before they were allowed to leave.
The crew on that plane said there was some kind of emergency on the runway but did not tell passengers that a plane had been stolen, he said.
“Of course, everyone’s pulling out their phone and finding out what’s going on, and seeing this crazy story,” he said.