A plane has crashed after a US airline employee conducted an “unauthorised take-off” in Washington state, officials have said.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane being chased by two F-15 military jets near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before it crashed near Ketron Island, south west of Tacoma.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter that preliminary information suggested that a mechanic had stolen the aircraft.
The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old Pierce County resident and the sheriff’s office said he was an employee “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills”.
It added: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info.. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
The F-15s had been scrambled from Portland and had “made it within a few minutes of theft of plane”, the sheriff’s office said.
Officers were conducting a background investigation on the man, who they did not identify but who was identified as “Rich” in audio recordings.
They added that the man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he’s “got a lot of people that care about me” and that he was “just a broken guy”.
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An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed.
— Sea-Tac Airport (@SeaTacAirport) August 11, 2018
The US Coast Guard said it has sent a 45ft vessel to the crash scene after reports of a large plume of smoke in the air.
Leah Morse, who watched the plane flying over her house tailed by the jets, said: “I was outside watering and heard the jets, saw the plane coming, and something told me to get my phone and record.
“Felt it in my gut something was wrong.”
Ms Morse said her mother, who lives near the crash site, had said eight minutes later that her whole house shook.
“We saw the jets circle back after and she texted that there was no plane.”
The F-15s were not involved in the crash, it was reported.
Horizon Air chief operating officer Constance von Muehlen confirmed one of the airline’s employees had made the “unauthorised take-off” at around 8pm local time.
She confirmed no other crew or passengers had been on the 76-seater Q400.
“Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees,” she added.
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US west.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials grounded flights temporarily during the drama but later said normal operations had resumed.
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.