Sea-Tac stolen airplane prompts authorities to investigate incident


By RACHEL LA CORTE and KEITH RIDLER

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Investigators worked to find out how an airline employee stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport and crashed into a small island in the Puget Sound after being chased by military jets that were quickly scrambled to intercept the aircraft.

The bizarre incident involving a worker of more than three years who authorities said was allowed to be among aircraft. The man was reportedly suicidal, pointing to one of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel: airline or airport employees causing mayhem.

“The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The Associated Press. “Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.”

The Friday night crash happened because the 29-year-old man was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said. The man, who was believed killed, wasn’t immediately identified.

There was no connection to terrorism, Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said.

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on Puget Sound. There were no passengers aboard.

Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon. Those employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.

Southers, the aviation security expert, said the man could have caused mass destruction. “If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground,” he said.

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