Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Business | By Eloise Houston

Stolen plane in Seattle crash prompts airport security concerns

Stolen plane in Seattle crash prompts airport security concerns

Federal authorities were searching on Saturday for what drove an airline worker to steal an empty airplane from Seattle's airport and crashing it into a nearby sparsely populated island, sparking a security scare that saw United States fighter jets scrambled.

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air officials said they were still working closely with authorities to investigate what happened. The 29-year-old man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first maneuver the aircraft so he could board and then take off Friday evening, authorities added. Unlike cars, there are no keys needed for the door or to turn on the plane, he said.

"That's their job, to be around these planes", said Brad Tilden, president and CEO of Alaska. The rogue pilot was aauthorized to operate the equipment that tows airplanes to and from runways.

Tilden declined to name the employee, but said he was hired by Horizon Air in February 2015. At the Alaska Airlines terminal, it was a hushed Friday night.

Authorities said he'd been an employee of Horizon since 2015 and "was fully credentialed and had access to" the cargo area where the Q400 was kept.

"He did go up there without a goal other than what he did do", Tilden said.

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400, a turboprop plane that seats 76 people, doing large loops and other unsafe maneuvers as the sun set on Puget Sound. Only the unknown pilot was on the plane.

Kaelin said Russell "was always great to work with - we got our flights out on time, if not early, most of the time". "The doors of the airplanes are not keyed". Those employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.

The family of the airport worker suspected of stealing a plane from Seattle's main airport before crashing into an island have expressed their shock and grief. None of the flights was delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours, Ehl said.

"I want to thank the Air National Guard from Washington and OR for scrambling jets to keep Washingtonians safe", Inslee tweeted, adding: "Those pilots are trained for moments like tonight and showed they are ready and capable".

"NORAD fighters did not fire upon the aircraft", North American Aerospace Defense Command said Saturday morning in a news release.

The military response was conducted in accordance with Operation Noble Eagle, which was put into effect after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

At a press conference, Sheriff Paul A. Pastor said it was definitely not an act of terror: "Most terrorists don't do loops over the water".

But investigators said Saturday they still anticipate they will be able to recover data recorders from the aircraft.

The employee's motivation for taking the plane is another big unanswered question.

In one, the controller can be heard telling the pilot: "What we don't want to see is you get hurt or anyone else get hurt, so like I said, if you want to land, that's probably the best way to go". Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess.

"Every airport in the country is going to be looking" at whether current protocols need to be changed, Soucie said. We have police boats, we have everybody responding.

The man, who was a ground agent at Sea-Tac Airport and not a pilot, eventually crashed on Ketron Island and died.

A passenger plane from Alaska Airlines was stolen from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday at around 8 PM.

Debra Eckrote, a regional chief with the National Transportation Safety Board, says the wings are off the plane and the fuselage is upside down. About two acres were burned. He said the crash caused an intense fire and no injuries were reported on the ground.

"Federal authorities are assisting with the ongoing investigation which is being led by local authorities". There are also significant signs of premeditation, with the thief at one point saying "I wasn't really planning on landing" the plane.

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