KOMO(SEATTLE) — An airline worker who stole an otherwise empty passenger plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport talked to air traffic controllers as he flew, saying at one point he only wanted to do a couple of “maneuvers” and at another that he was “just a broken guy.”
The ground services worker for Horizon Air, whose name has not been released, died. He was identified by authorities as a 29-year-old resident of Pierce County in Washington state.
The man took off from the runway with the Horizon Air passenger plane at 7:32 p.m. local time Friday, officials said.
The 76-seat airliner was captured on video doing large loops and other risky air stunts during its hour-long flight. It crashed an hour after takeoff on a sparsely populated island.
“This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong,” said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.
‘We don’t know how he learned to do that’
Airline officials said they are not sure how the ground services worker learned to operate a plane, much less perform flying stunts.
There are many switches and levers to start a plane, Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said at a news conference Saturday. “We don’t know how he learned to do that.”
“To our knowledge he did not have a pilot’s license,” Beck said. But he performed some “incredible” maneuvers.
The man was authorized to be in the area of the airfield where the plane was parked for maintenance, officials said.
The FBI meanwhile is leading an investigation into the incident, including interviewing the man’s coworkers and family members, the FBI special agent in charge said at the news conference.
‘I don’t want to hurt no one’
Audio recordings of the man’s exchange with air traffic controllers were posted on Broadcastify and confirmed by federal aviation sources as authentic. In the recordings, air traffic controllers can be heard trying to persuade and help the man to land the plane. They also have experienced pilots radio in to guide him on flying.
“I just kind of want to do a couple maneuvers to see what it can do before I put it down,” the man tells air traffic control.
“This is probably like jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me,” the man says a few minutes later.
“We’re not going to worry or think about that, but could you start a left-hand turn please?” an air traffic controller responds.
“I don’t want to hurt no one,” the man says a few minutes later.
Air traffic control tries to convince the man to land at the Air Force’s nearby McChord Field.
“If you wanted to land, probably the best bet is that runway just ahead to your left, again that’s the McChord Field. If you wanted to try, that might be the best way to set up and see if you can land there. Or just like the pilot suggests, another option would be over Pudget Sound into the water,” an air traffic controller says.
“Dang, did you talk to McChord yet, because I don’t think I’d be happy with you telling me I could land like that, because I could mess some stuff up,” the man replies.
“I already talked to them and, just like me, what we want to see is you not get hurt or anybody else get hurt. So like I said, if you want to try to land, that’s probably the best place to go,” the air traffic controller says.
Minutes later, the man sounds remorseful and says he’s a “broken guy” with “a few screws loose.”
“I got a lot of people that care about me and it’s going to disappoint them that — to hear that I did this. 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,” the man says.
A pilot who was asked to help guide the man radios to him, “Let’s try to land that plane safely and not hurt anyone.”
The man responds, “All right. Damn it. I don’t know, man, I don’t know, I don’t want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know?”
Military jets in pursuit
After the man took off in the plane, North American Aerospace Defense Command quickly launched two F-15 fighter jets to pursue the craft, a federal senior aviation source told ABC News. The Federal Aviation Administration said it implemented a “groundstop” for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as soon as the plane was taken.
The plane ultimately crashed on Ketron Island, a small, sparsely populated island about 40 miles away from the airport.
“It does not appear that the military jets were involved in the crash,” said Brad Tilden, chairman and CEO of Alaska Airlines, parent company of Horizon Air.
Aerial footage of Ketron Island showed a large fiery blaze where the plane crashed. No one on the ground was harmed and no buildings were damaged, officials said.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport flights were delayed or diverted Friday night due to the incident, with normal operations resuming by around 1 a.m. in the morning, officials said.
The FBI tweeted Friday night that the incident did not appear to be terrorism and that it was working with other agencies to “gather a complete picture” of what happened.
“Although response efforts to tonight’s aircraft incident and the investigation are still ongoing, information gathered thus far does NOT suggest a terrorist threat or additional, pending criminal activity,” the agency said in a statement via Twitter on Friday night. “The FBI continues to work with our state, local, and federal partners to gather a complete picture of what transpired with tonight’s unauthorized Horizon aircraft takeoff and crash.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the response of public agencies.
“The president has been briefed on the incident involving a stolen plane from Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle and is monitoring the situation as information becomes available,” Sanders said in a statement Saturday morning. “Federal authorities are assisting with the ongoing investigation which is being led by local authorities. We commend the interagency response effort for their swift action and protection of public safety.”
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