A plane has been stolen from Seattle-Tacoma international airport by a mechanic and crashed, authorities have confirmed, after F-15 fighter jets were scrambled and flights grounded in a major security incident.
Military pilots contacted the rogue aircraft and it crashed soon afterwards, said local media, citing sources at the US air force Joint Base Lewis–McChord (JBLM) in Washington state. The plane came down near Ketron Island in the Puget Sound about 25 miles south-west of the airport. Aerial television footage showed a fire in amongst trees.
A law enforcement spokesperson said the incident was a suicide. The pilot was described as a 29-year-old mechanic. The person had crashed by “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills”, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
The emergency shut down the airport, known as Sea-Tac, and the surrounding skies.
The plane involved was a Horizon Air Q400 with no passengers on board, tweeted Alaskan Airlines. Videos posted online showed an aircraft matching the description being followed by what appeared to be a fighter jet.
Recordings of an air traffic control conversation with the 29-year-old pilot supported the suicide claim.
“This is not a terrorist incident,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Detective Ed Troyer said on Twitter.
“This is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said the US coast guard was sending a 45-foot vessel to the crash scene after witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke.
Flights were grounded with some passengers tweeting that their plane stopped abruptly on the runway. The Q400 is a twin-engined propeller plane made by Bombardier and sometimes referred to as a Dash-8. Horizon Air is a division of Alaskan that flies short routes in the western US.
Air traffic controllers and pilots could be heard discussing the “ground stop” and dealing with a backlog of aircraft in the aftermath of the drama.