Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Authorities probe how airline employee could steal plane

Published:Sunday | August 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Law-enforcement officials stand at a staging area last Friday near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where an Alaska Airlines plane had been stolen and later crashed.

OLYMPIA, Washington (AP):

Investigators worked into the night yesterday as they sought 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.

Officials said yesterday that the man was a 3.5-year Horizon employee and had clearance to be among aircraft, but that to their knowledge, he wasn't a licensed pilot.

The 29-year-old man used a machine called a push back tractor to first manoeuvre the aircraft so he could board and then take off last Friday evening, authorities added.

It's unclear how he attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft before crashing about an hour after taking off into a small island in the Puget Sound.

At a news conference in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, officials from Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air said that they are still working closely with authorities as they investigate what happened.

"Safety is our number one goal," said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines. "Last night's event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline."

The bizarre incident involving a worker who authorities said was suicidal points 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."

Seattle FBI agent in charge Jay Tabb Jr cautioned that the investigation would take a lot of time, and details, including the employee's name, would not be released. Dozens of personnel were out at the crash site, and co-workers and family members were being interviewed, he said.

There was no connection to terrorism.