At 20:00 local time in Seattle yesterday, an empty passenger aircraft (operated by Horizon Air) was stolen and crashed by an airline employee.
Authorities said the man had made “an unauthorised take-off” late on Friday local time, forcing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close.
Although unnerving, the local Sheriff’s Office said that the incident was “not a terrorist incident” and identified the airline employee responsible as a 29 year old man, local to the area.
Alaska Airlines – sister carrier of Horizon Air – has acknowledge the ‘unauthorised take-off’, as has Seattle-Tacoma Airport itself.
We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA. We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) August 11, 2018
Two F-15 Fighter Jets were scrambled from Portland Airport to pursue the Bombardier Q400 aircraft. However, officials have confirmed that neither of the fighter jets were involved or had any role in the crash when the plane came down about an hour later in the south of Ketron Island – 30 miles south of Sea-Tac airport.
Why did the employee do what he did?
A conversation could be heard on a live-stream of ATC, between the air traffic controller and the employee – referred to as ‘Rich’ or ‘Richard’. Prior to the crashing of the 76-seater aircraft, Rich could be heard saying:
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them 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 air traffic controllers remained remarkably calm throughout, despite the deeply saddening situation unfolding in front of them. My thoughts go out to Richard’s family and friends affected by this.
What happens now?
The FBI have taken over the investigation of the distressing incident, according to a local police department. There is no doubt that tricky questions will be raised about how the employee was able to ‘steal’ this aircraft – the notion that, at one of the USA’s largest airports, a man can simply take-off with an empty aircraft is incomprehensible. Had this incident unfolded in a different way, it had the potential to cause mass loss of life.
Horizon Air’s COO Constance Van Muehlen made the below statement, late last night:
Flights from Seattle resumed around 90 minutes later, despite being temporarily grounded.