An airline mechanic stole an empty plane from the Seattle — Tacoma International Airport and flew it for an hour with military jets pursuing him before crashing in a wooded area 40 miles away.
The 76-seater aircraft took off without authorization Friday night with a Horizon Air employee at the controls, airport officials tweeted.
The unidentified 29-year-old mechanic was pronounced dead after the crash, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said.
The incident was not considered terrorism, sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
The mechanic “was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island,” the sheriff’s department tweeted.
Two F-15 jets chased the plane
Within minutes of the plane’s takeoff, the military scrambled two F-15 jets from Portland to follow the plane, authorities said. They pursued the aircraft before it went down on Ketron Island between Tacoma and Olympia.
“Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe,” the sheriff’s office tweeted. It said the jets were not involved in the crash.
Witnesses described the surreal scene after the plane left the airport. John Waldron was walking along a trail near the bay when he noticed the two military jets following another plane.
“I was getting prepared to run just in case,” he said.
After the plane approached Ketron Island, Waldron saw a thick column of smoke followed by a loud explosion.