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.
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.
A local aviation expert says the incident shows glaring gaps in airport security.
Retired airline captain Denny Kelly has more than 20 years of experience in the aviation industry and has logged more than 20,000 flying hours in the sky.
Kelly says someone on the ground or in the air traffic control tower should've noticed a plane was being moved when it shouldn't have been, but it took several minutes for that to happen, allowing the 29-year-old worker to take the plane into the air. He also says it's extremely lucky no one else was hurt.
“People weren't doing their job. Somebody should've looked over and seen that airplane, him hooking up to the airplane and nobody else around, nobody in the cockpit. They should've gone over and said ‘Hey,’ if nothing else, ‘Can I help you? You want me to ride the brakes in the cockpit’ or ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Nobody did that,” said Kelly.
A statement from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is assisting in the investigation says:
"The FAA implemented a groundstop for Sea-Tac as soon as the aircraft was taken.
FAA air traffic controllers communicated with the individual who was flying the aircraft to try to help him land safely."
Normal operations at Sea-Tac resumed around 9:30 Friday night.