A man stole a plane and closed Seattle airport before being chased by fighter jets and crashing

A man stole a plane and closed Seattle airport before being chased by fighter jets and crashing

A 29-year-old airline employee who stole a commercial aircraft from a Seattle airport has crashed after being chased by fighter jets. The man, who took off from the runway without authorisation, was said to be doing "stunts" in the air before crashing about an hour after he took off.

The Horizon Air Q400 plane, a turboprop plane that can hold up to 78 passengers, did not appear to have anyone else on board other than the man who hijacked it. The incident was "not a terrorist incident" according to the local sheriff's office, and the man was a local to the area.

The 29-year-old made "an unauthorised take-off" late on Friday local time according to authorities, the incident forcing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close down while they dealt with the rogue pilot. Two fighter jets were sent after the man, who was interacting via an audio communications system. The two F15 fighter jets were not involved in the eventual crash of the stolen plane, which came down in Puget Sound.

"The plane, which was taken from a maintenance position and was not scheduled for passenger flight, crashed about an hour later in a wooded area on Ketron Island in rural Pierce County," Alaska Air said in a statement. "No ground structures were involved at the crash site."

"Military jets were scrambled from Portland, but it does not appear that these jets were involved in the crash of the Horizon aircraft."

Eye-witnesses were left stunned as they saw the aircraft attempt "stunts" in the sky, with onlookers from the airport and surrounds seeing and recording the aircraft. In communication with air traffic control, the man was being advised on how to safely land the plane, though he told them he could land it by himself because he had played "some video games".

It is unclear why the man stole the plane, with Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor telling reporters it appeared to be "a joyride gone terribly wrong". The audio recording of the man's conversations with air traffic control reveals that he was talking about attempting a barrel roll before "calling it a day".

John Waldron, who saw the plane in the air, told CNN that he saw it do "a complete loop" before it went "pretty much straight up" and "almost stalled the aircraft".

"Somehow he got it levelled back off," he recalled. "And then made his way down toward the island."

The rogue pilot, who identified himself as "Rich", said at one point: "'I'm just a broken guy. I've got a few screws loose I guess, I never really knew it until now." Authorities later announced that they had identified the individual and confirmed that he was suicidal.

“We are still gathering facts, but at this point we understand there was only one person aboard, an employee of Horizon Air, who was operating the aircraft," Brad Tilden, CEO of the Alaska Air Group said. "I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident. Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved."

Operations at Sea-Tac Airport resumed a few hours after the incident, and the FBI has taken over to investigate further.