A Horizon Air ground service agent boarded a Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft Friday night at a maintenance area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and took off, Horizon's sister airline Alaska Airlines said.
He flew for about an hour, often erratically with attempts at aerial acrobatics, before crashing into Ketron Island in Puget Sound, about 40 miles (40 km) to the southwest.
The 29-year-old man, who has not been named, was suicidal and appeared to have acted alone, according to authorities. It is believed that he died in the accident.
It was not known that he held a pilot's license, Horizon Air executive director Gary Beck said at a press conference, and it was not clear how he could take off and fly as he did.
"There were some maneuvers that were incredible maneuvers with the plane," Beck said. "Commercial airplanes are complex machines, they are not as easy to fly as, for example, a Cessna 150, so I do not know how the experience made it," Beck said.
The local sheriff's department said on Twitter that acrobatics or lack of flying skills caused the accident.
In partial recordings of employee conversations with air traffic controllers published by Broadcastify.com, the man said he regretted disappointing people who cared about him and described himself as a "broken guy."
"I have some loose screws, I guess", is heard in the recording. "I've never really known until now."
The employee had worked for Horizon Air for 3-1 / 2 years and had permission to tow planes, Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Brad Tilden said at the press conference.
He said that planes of that type do not have lockable doors or ignition keys like cars.
"The configuration of aviation in the United States is to secure the airfield and then we have the mindset that we have credentialed and authorized employees to be there," Tilden said, adding that the airline was working with the authorities to investigate.
The FBI leads the investigation, which also includes the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
"We are going to be exhaustive, which means taking the time to go through the area, delving into the background of the person who is held responsible and reviewing every aspect of this incident with all appropriate public and private partners," the FBI said. a statement. declaration.
Two F-15 fighter jets aired from a base in Portland, Oregon, and were on the scene in a matter of minutes. The planes were armed but did not open fire, North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman Cameron Hillier said by telephone.
Instead, F-15 pilots and air traffic controllers tried to steer the plane westward, away from populated areas, Hillier said. No one was injured on the ground, authorities said.
It was not clear how the employee could take the plane on a runway and take off without authorization.
The Bombardier Q400 turboprop is designed for short-haul flights and can accommodate up to 76 passengers, Alaska Air said.