A bizarre and tragic story unfolded on Friday night in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
According to various outlets, as well as footage captured by stunned pedestrians, an airport mechanic hijacked a plane around 8 p.m., flew it around for about an hour…
… and then crashed into the Puget Sound in Washington, killing himself in the process.
The man, who was referred to as Rich by air traffic control personnel in various exchanges that have been made public, worked for Alaska Air Horizon and allegedly stole a Horizon Air Q400, shutting down the airport for a brief period of time.
In a statement released on Twitter last night, Sea-Tac Airport officials confirmed the reports of an “unauthorized takeoff,” saying in full:
“An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without permission at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed.”
The incident is not considered to have been a terrorist act of any kind.
Instead, based on the aforementioned traffic control exchanges, it appears to have been a suicidal act by a troubled individual.
“Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29-year-old Pierce county residence [sic],” the Pierce County Sheriff Department Tweeted late Friday.
The drama actually played out live over air traffic control monitoring sites.
In audio recordings of the incident posted on Broadcastify, Rich can be heard talking to air traffic controllers as they try to guide him to land the plane.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me, and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” the man says.
“I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
It’s terrifying and upsetting to listen to.
Earlier in the flight, the man says: “This is probably like jail time for life, huh? I mean, I would hope it is, for a guy like me.”
“Well,” a controller replies, “we’re not going to worry or think about that. But could you start a left-hand turn, please?”
Throughout the back-and-forths, controllers are calmly trying to steer the man away from any place where he could cause damage by landing or crashing the plane.
They are trying to save his life and also the lives of everyone underneath his flight path.
“Let’s get you on the ground so you don’t hurt anyone,” someone identified as Captain Bill tells Rich.
As Rich flew over the water, a pair of F-15 fighter jets were dispatched to intercept the plane; neither were involved in the eventual crash landing.
The plane was seen by a number of witnesses doing stunts before crashing, as witnesses shared videos of the low-flying aircraft on social media.
“Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly),” Tweeted one witness, adding:
“did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times.”
Weird times, but mostly sad and tragic times in this case.
The plane was taken from a maintenance position and was not scheduled for a passenger flight, said Gary Beck, Horizon Air’s president and chief executive officer.
An investigation is underway to determine more, but it is not believed that anyone outside of the pilot/mechanic was harmed.
“Our hearts are with the families of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees,” said Constance von Muehlen, the airline’s chief operating officer.