NEW: Alaska Airlines CEO says the FBI is the "lead agency investigating" the stolen plane incident at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Friday night that resulted in a plane crash, killing the individual onboard. https://t.co/Xxkwm6F77R pic.twitter.com/mKbcbBBkNu— ABC News (@ABC) August 11, 2018
During a press conference Saturday, Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said the airline will work with the three federal agencies to "better understand the circumstances behind this incident." The FBI is the "lead agency investigating" the incident.
The incident, described as "super scary" by witnesses, began Friday night at the busy airport. Officials said a "suicidal" ground service employee took control of an empty Horizon Air Q400 turboprop plane.
According to KING5, Alaska Airlines said the man, a 29-year-old resident of Pierce County, Washington, was a ground service agent responsible for directing aircraft takeoff and gate approaches.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said the man was "suicidal" and "acted alone," reports ABC News. Officials also discounted terrorism and noted that no one else was aboard the 76-seat plane.
Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times. pic.twitter.com/Ra4LcIhwfU— bmbdgty (@drbmbdgty) August 11, 2018
Video from eyewitnesses showed the plane circling in the air for an hour before crashing on Ketron Island after 8:45 p.m. The fire continued to burn into Saturday morning, but firefighters said the fire is contained. Ketron Island is a small island in south Pugent Sound, only accessible via ferry. It is about 40 miles from the airport.
Before the crash, North American Aerospace Defense Command sent a pair of F-15 fighter jets to follow the plane. The FAA ordered a "groundstop" at the airport. Normal operations resumed about 45 minutes after the crash.
"It's super scary when you think about how fast those planes are moving, the distance from Ketron Island to these houses in minuscule," witness Mark Reger told KING5. "It's really scary to think what might have happened under slightly different circumstances."
The NTSB said the plane landed on the island upside down and "highly fragmented." Investigators are now searching for the black box.
"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," Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said in a statement Saturday. No ground structures were involved in the crash. We are working closely with the authorities and our own safety teams to thoroughly understand this incident."
Tilden also expressed his condolences to the man's family and said the airline will fully cooperate with investigators.0comments
"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," Tilden said. “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."
Photo credit: George Rose/Getty Images