An apparently suicidal mechanic stole an empty passenger plane from the Seattle-Tacoma airport on Friday night, took it for a brief flight and then crashed it into an incident that officials said was not related to terrorism.
Two military F-15s scrambled to chase the stolen plane, but local officials said the jets "were not involved in the accident."
The video taken by a passerby showed that the passenger plane created an improbable inverted air loop, then flew low over Puget Sound before crashing into sparsely populated Ketron Island in the northwestern state of Washington.
The accident caused a fire in the dense forest. The flames lit up the night as they spread from the burning remains to the nearby trees.
An employee of the airline "made an unauthorized takeoff" of a plane that did not carry passengers, then "crashed in the south of Puget Sound," officials at Sea-Tac Airport on Twitter said.
The stolen plane was a double-engine Q400 turboprop aircraft belonging to its sister airline Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines said on Twitter. It usually carries 76 passengers.
"This is not a terrorist incident," Ed Troyer wrote in the Pierce County Sheriff's office on Twitter.
"Confirmed information … this is a single suicidal man, we know who he is, there are no others involved," Troyer wrote.
The suspect was identified as a mechanic of a 29-year-old airline and resident of Pierce County who "acted alone," Troyer added, confirming that "there were no passengers on the plane" when it crashed.
The sheriff's office also said that the F-15s, which were taken out of Portland, in the nearby state of Oregon, arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the plane "out of harm's way and the people in the I'm safe. "
Horizon Air executive director Constance Van Muehlen issued a video statement describing the incident.
"We believe that (the plane) was taken by a single employee of Horizon Air and there were no other passengers or crew on board," he said. "Our hearts are with the individual's family on board, as well as with all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees."
Incident & # 39; Bizarre & # 39; filmed
John Wauldron, who took a dramatic video of the stolen aircraft flying in a loop, told CNN he was out for a nighttime ride when he saw the two fighter jets that followed the turboprop plane.
Their first thought was that they were practicing for an air show. "Then, I started capturing video, just because I thought it was, something strange," he told CNN.
Wauldron said it looked like the jets were chasing the plane. "I thought this is really strange, I kept the video rolling."
Then, the passenger plane pilot "did a full cycle … I could not believe he recovered."
He estimates that the plane at its lowest point "was not less than 100 feet (30.5 meters) above the water".
Then, the pilot "pulled, almost straight, and at a certain angle, and almost paralyzed the plane, somehow regained it level, and then went down to the island."
Wauldron said he was ready to "run and take cover." He turned briefly, then turned and saw the explosion when the plane crashed.
"I saw a bright, pointed area of flame, and the smoke, I thought:" My God. I think it crashed. "
For help and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline at 13 11 14.