An empty Horizon Air passenger plane has crashed after it was stolen by a ground employee from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night, according to local authorities and a senior federal aviation source.
North American Aerospace Defense Command launched fighter jets to intercept the aircraft, which was steered away from Seattle and Tacoma by air traffic control, on its hour-long flight, according to the source. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said the two F-15s were not involved in the crash.
The plane took off without authorization around 8 p.m. local time and crashed on Ketron Island, which is southwest of Tacoma, in south Puget Sound. The small island has only about 20 year-round residents.
The individual who stole the plane, a 29 year-old man from Pierce County, died in the crash, according to the the sheriff’s department, which described him as “suicidal.” Horizon Air COO Constance von Muehlen confirmed the man was an employee of the airline carrier.
The sheriff said this was not a terrorist incident.
“Most terrorists don’t do loops over the water,” said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor. “This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong.”
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has a number of vessels on scene, while the U.S. Coast Guard is on scene as well. A large fire could be seen from aerial shots of the island. Officials said no one on the ground was harmed, nor were any buildings.