FBI widens inquiry into suicidal airline worker

Horizon Air ground service agent heard describing himself over radio as a ‘broken guy’

An airline employee took off in an airplane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday (August 10) before crashing in the south Puget Sound, the airport said on social media. Video: Leah Morse/John Waldron

 

Federal authorities on Saturday were seeking to learn what drove an airline worker to steal an empty airplane from Seattle’s airport in a security scare that caused the scrambling of US fighter jets and ended when the plane crashed onto a sparsely populated island.

A Horizon Air ground service agent got into a Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft on Friday night in a maintenance area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and took off, Horizon sister carrier Alaska Airline said.

He flew for about one hour, often erratically, before crashing on Ketron Island in Puget Sound, about 40 km (25 miles) to the southwest.

The 29-year-old man, who has not been named, was suicidal and appeared to have acted alone, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which said the employee was believed to have been killed in the crash.

“Doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island,” said the Sheriff’s department on Twitter.

In partial recordings of his conversations with air traffic controllers that were published online by Broadcastify.com, the man said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him and described himself as a “broken guy.”

“Got a few screws loose, I guess,” he is heard saying in the recording. “Never really knew it until now.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the incident.

“Until the FBI has the opportunity to get better background on the person, find out what motive they had, it’s a little too early to make a determination on what the objective was,” said Debra Eckrote, the board’s western Pacific region chief.

Two F-15 fighter jets took to the air from a base in Portland, Oregon, and were on the scene within minutes. The jets were armed but did not open fire, North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman Cameron Hillier said by phone.

Instead, the F-15 pilots and air traffic controllers tried to guide the plane west, away from populated areas, said Mr Hillier. No one was hurt on the ground, said authorities.

It was unclear how the employee was able to taxi the plane on a runway and take off without authorisation.

“We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened,” said Brad Tilden, chief executive of Alaska Air Group.

The Bombardier Q400 turboprop is designed for short-distance flights and can seat 76 passengers, Alaska Air said. – Reuters