Aug. 11 (UPI) — An employee of Horizon Air stole one of the airline’s planes Friday night at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and died when the aircraft crashed on a small island, officials said.
An unidentified 29-year-old employee, who parent company Alaska Air Group believed to be a ground service agent, took off in the Horizon Air Q400 without clearance at about 8 p.m. Friday. The plane, which had no other passengers, crashed on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound at about 9:30 p.m., the Seattle Times reported, citing the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
The Times reported air-traffic control audio indicated the employee, who referred to himself as Rich and Richard, seemed to be under emotional duress.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” Rich said at one point. “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.”
An air-traffic controller tried unsuccessfully to convince Rich to land the plane safely. Eventually, jets responded from the Air National Guard in Washington and Oregon and flew alongside the Horizon Air Q400 turboprop, prepared “to do whatever was needed to protect us,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
An eyewitness, Bryan Sichley, told the Times he saw a plane, chased by fighter jets, that ultimately did a nose dive.
“I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved.”
The FBI is working the case, KOMO reported. It does not consider the incident to be an act of terrorism.