Police: Tampa pilot voiced support for bin Laden
Crash into bank building a suicide, officials say
TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- A note written by the 15-year-old boy who crashed a Cessna into a Tampa office building indicated he supported Osama bin Laden and that the act was deliberate, authorities say.
Charles J. Bishop, who took the plane on an unauthorized flight across Tampa Bay, died at the scene of Saturday's crash into the 42-story Bank of America Plaza building. He apparently made no attempt to avoid the structure, witnesses said.
"I would characterize it as a suicide," said Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder.
The note, which was found in the wreckage of the plane, "clearly stated that he had acted alone, without any help from anyone else," Holder said. "He did, however, make statements expressing his sympathy for Osama bin Laden and the events which occurred September 11, 2001." Several of the pilots involved in those attacks trained at Florida flight schools.
"We have heard, in talking with some people, that he often mentioned being of Arab descent and we're following up on that," Holder said. "I believe his father was part Arab, I'm not exactly sure, but we are checking that out." Holder said he believed the teenager had no contact with his father.
Authorities have no information to support any connection between Bishop and any terror organization, Holder said. "At this point, there is no reason to suggest anyone else was involved."
Bishop had few friends, Holder said. "He was very much a loner. From his actions, we can assume he was a troubled young man."
The investigation is continuing, he said.
Authorities removed the computer belonging to Bishop from his house and will check it for possible clues to his motive, Holder said.
Bishop, who had taken flight lessons for two years, had gone to the private-plane section of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, accompanied by his mother and grandmother. His instructor left him at the plane to perform a preflight inspection, authorities said.
He had no authority to get in the plane alone, a government transportation official said.
A ninth-grader at East Lake High School near Tarpon Springs, Florida, Bishop should have had an instructor in the plane with him, said Pinellas County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita.
Once he was alone in the plane, a Cessna 172, he started the engine and took off without permission around 5 p.m. EST.
When the plane took off, the instructor contacted the St. Petersburg airport's air-traffic control tower, which then notified Tampa International Airport, Tampa police said. The St. Petersburg control tower also immediately notified MacDill Air Force Base since the Cessna was headed its way, said Sgt. Chris Miller, MacDill public affairs officer.
After a five-minute flight over Tampa Bay, the plane entered MacDill Air Force Base's restricted airspace and flew over the runway about 100 feet off the ground, Miller said. The student did not appear to be making an attempt to land nor did the plane circle or fly erratically, he added. MacDill is the home of the U.S. Central Command, which directs the U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.
MacDill contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which had a helicopter on routine patrol in the vicinity, and asked it to investigate. The helicopter caught up with the plane near Peter O. Knight Airport, about 14 miles east from where the Cessna took off, said Coast Guard spokesman Paul Rhymand.
Minutes before the crash, the helicopter pilot made direct eye contact with the student through the chopper's open side door as crew members gestured for Bishop to land the plane, police said. It was not clear what his response was.
Beyond making gestures, "There's not much a helicopter can do," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Charlotte Pittman. She was sure the youth saw the crew's hand gestures, Pittman said.
Soon after, the plane crashed into the Bank of America building. The plane's wings fell to the ground, but the fuselage stuck in the building's southwest corner on the 28th and 29th floors. It was removed from its precarious perch Sunday morning, and local authorities declared the building safe.
Jets on patrol
After being notified Saturday by the FAA, the North American Aerospace Defense Command ordered two F-15 combat jets at Homestead Air Force Base in Miami to intercept the Cessna around 5:15 p.m., NORAD Capt. Kirstin Reimann said.
The F-15s arrived on the scene too late to intervene, a Homestead spokesman said. The jets flew combat air patrol over the area until 7:30 p.m. as a precaution, Reimann added.
Several employees of the Tampa Club, a business and dining club, were on the top two floors of the Bank of America building when the plane crashed. There were no injuries in the building, which was evacuated.
Though the plane leaked fuel, it did not catch fire. Firefighters inside the building sprayed the area with foam.
Authorities evacuated the street below the bank building, which in the heart of the city at 101 E. Kennedy Blvd. Commercial airports in Tampa and St. Petersburg briefly suspended operations, but resumed service within about an hour.
President Bush was briefed on the incident, as well as two other crashes involving small aircraft Saturday afternoon. Federal authorities said the Florida crash was not related to two others in California and Colorado.
The Cessna, a 2000 model, is owned by National Aviation Holdings of Clearwater, Florida, according to Landings, a Web site that tracks information on aircraft.
-- CNN Correspondent Kathleen Koch contributed to this report
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