United States

Airline employee steals plane from Seattle airport, crashes and dies

  • U.S. airline worker steals plane, takes it for flight before crashing it
    The 29-year-old man, who has not been identified, was suicidal and appeared to have acted alone U.S. airline worker steals plane, takes it for flight before crashing it

Federal authorities were searching on Saturday for what drove an airline worker to steal an empty airplane from Seattle’s airport and crashing it into a nearby sparsely populated island, sparking a security scare that saw U.S. fighter jets scrambled.

An airline employee stole a passenger plane Friday from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and flew it for an hour with military jets chasing him, pulling off aerobatic stunts before crashing in a wooded island 25 miles away, authorities said.

The 29-year-old ground service agent -- the only person aboard -- died, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department said, without further identifying him.

The 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop plane took off without authorization around 8 p.m. local time, with a Horizon Air employee who was not a pilot at the controls, airport officials tweeted.

After "doing stunts in (the) air" -- or being flown without proper skills -- for about an hour, the plane crashed at Ketron Island, the sheriff's department said. The man was a ground service agent, a job that includes directing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, handling baggage and de-icing planes, authorities said.

Video from a witness on the ground shows the plane at one point doing a loop, putting the aircraft upside-down, then pulling up just feet above a body of water.

The incident, which the FBI's Seattle office said was not considered terrorism, raises questions about security at the airport, including how the man was able to get aboard the plane by himself, CNN safety analyst David Soucie said.
"There is a protocol to not allow anyone singularly to get onboard an aircraft," Soucie said. "If you're going to access the aircraft ... you make sure that you check with someone else, and that someone else (will confirm) that ... you have the right authority to get onto that aircraft."

"Every airport in the country is going to be looking" at whether current protocols need to be changed, Soucie said.