Saturday, 11 August 2018

Taking a plane for a joyride.....ground worker steals a passenger aircraft.

It's believed that a suicidal airline employee, a member of the ground crew, stole an empty passenger aircraft from Seattle Tacoma Airport, for an hour joyride on Friday evening before crashing into an island in Puget Sound. 

It's believed the man stole the aircraft,  made "an unauthorised take-off" late on Friday which forced the airport to halt operations for a period of time and the air force to scramble two F15 fighter jets. The man, who has not yet been named by officials, then did a number of manoeuvres in the air including a complete loop the loop, flying inverted, doing a low pass over the water as well as appearing to climb straight up.

When I first heard this story on the radio news, I assumed it had been a small Cessna or a similarly sized aircraft, I was therefore shocked to discover it was a twin-engined turboprop Bombardier Q400 belonging to Alaska Airlines' sister carrier Horizon Air.

The aircraft took off from Seattle-Tacoma at about 20:00 local time, 03:00 GMT and after it did, take off's from the Seattle airport were halted as the ATC tried to contact the man on the rogue aircraft.

The man spoke to controllers and went by the first name of Rich and he sounded rather calm on recordings of the radio conversation that have been released by officials. During the conversation, the 29-year-old tells controllers about how nice the view was, as well as doing barrel rolls and the possibilities of landing. The man also confirms he wasn't a qualified pilot but had played a few video games and towards the end of the released audio clips, he apologises to his family for taking the aircraft. He also hoped he didn't spoil the controllers day. 

It was quite amazing to see a Bombardier Q400 pulling aerobatical manoeuvres in the clear skies, definitely something the aircraft was not designed for and is perhaps a testament to how well built those Bombardier Q400's aircraft are. 

Two F15 fighter jets pursued the plane as the controllers tried to coax the man into landing the aircraft, although he seems rather reticent about trying that in case he messed something up on the ground and hurt people. He then performed one last manoeuvre before the aircraft crashed into an island in Puget Sound.

Gary Beck, the CEO of Horizon said, “The Horizon Air Q400, which was taken from Sea-Tac International Airport, was not scheduled to fly at the time of the incident. While we have not yet confirmed the identity of the employee, we have confirmed that all crew and passengers are accounted for. Air Traffic Control was in contact with the individual during the brief flight before it crashed on Ketron Island about an hour after it left Sea-Tac. No ground structures were involved in the crash."

Alaska Airlines CEO, Brad Tilden issued the following statement “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. 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."

“We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation."