Return to Transcripts main page


Suicidal Mechanic Steals and Crashes Airplane in Ketron Island from Sea-Tac International Airport. Aired 12:55a-2a ET

Aired August 11, 2018 - 00:55   ET


CYRIL VANIER, ANCHOR, CNN: All right, breaking news, this is just coming in to us here at CNN. Alaska Airlines says they are investigating the unauthorized takeoff of one of its partner's planes at Seattle's main airport Friday evening. That's according to a tweet from the airline. Now, it crashed in Pierce County not far from the airport.

These are the pictures we can bring you at this stage. Now, of course, it is night time in Washington state, just about 10:00 p.m. local. The plane was reportedly from Horizon Air. It was a Q400, that is a very popular commuter aircraft which seats around 75 people on a normal flight, so not a small plane.

CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell joins us on the phone from Coronado Island in California. Josh, we don't know. We don't have a whole lot of details at this stage. But just tell me your first reaction when you hear the news that a plane has somehow been taken control of and that somebody takes off at an international airport.

JOSH CAMPBELL, LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, CNN: Hi, Cyril, obviously we have a very serious security breach here and there will be two aspects that we have to look at and analyze. The first of which being the access. So the person got access to the aircraft, was able to takeoff which there are obviously a number of steps that are involved there. This isn't someone who just wanders off to the airplane and then has the wherewithal and the knowledge to actually operate the aircraft to get it off the ground so that is obviously something that we're going to look at, is what type of access did this person have?

The second question being, were there any passengers? Obviously, that would escalate things greatly. There's a lot of details that we don't have right now as far as the aircraft itself, was it empty? Was this person working on the aircraft? And again, so many questions that we have and that's obviously something that we're going to drill down on.

The second issue here becomes even more serious and that is what were the circumstances here that actually led to the grounding? Was this something that was accidental, that the person was operating the aircraft and either didn't have the knowledge to actually bring it to a safe landing? Or was this something that was done intentionally either by the pilot or by military folks that were actually in the area?

There are again a lot of unconfirmed reports right now. There have been a lot of videos on social media where we actually saw what looked to be the military aircraft that was trailing this commercial aircraft. Again, there are a lot of questions we don't know right now the answers to as far as was this an aircraft that was brought down by the military? Was this something that was brought down accidentally? Was it an aircraft that ran out of fuel?

So many questions that we don't have right now, but those are the two key issues, first of all, the access and then what actually led to the pictures that we're seeing right now on the screen. This appears to be an inferno where the aircraft has actually crashed, Cyril.

VANIER: Again, we don't have a whole lot of information right now. We are going to try and fill these in and we're going to bring this to our viewers as soon as we have them. You're telling me - now, let me first get to this. What would protocol be in a situation like this? You mentioned possible military jets that were scrambled. We don't know. We can't confirm whether or not that was the case, but what would protocol be?

CAMPBELL: So there are two issues here. First of all, we could talk about how the aircraft actually gets off the ground. So if this was an airport employee, a mechanic, this would be someone who would be familiar with an aircraft and we all know, based on history and a lot of the issues that we've seen, it's easier to take off an aircraft than it is actually to bring one to a safe landing. So if this was someone who had some type of issue, some type of grievance, there's a lot that we don't know there as far as what the motivation was.

But it would have been a lot easier to take off the aircraft even with minimal knowledge of flying than it would be to actually bring it to a safe conclusion. The second issue being as we just mentioned there, and we're getting a lot of unconfirmed reports. We're going based on what we've seen as far as some of the social media reports about this video of what appears to be a military aircraft that's flying. That is the key issue and again, we remember, again, not to tie this too closely back to 9/11, but that was the issue there as far as if you have an aircraft that may pose a potential threat to the public, a threat that may involve a municipal area or an urban environment, what are the protocols that are in place that would be employed by the Department of Defense, by our national command authority that would actually give the signal to say, "This is now a threat to the population."


CAMPBELL: "This is something that needs to be taken out." There are a lot of questions that we don't have there. Another issue that we have to focus on is at what point did our leaders actually get involved to provide the type of leadership and guidance and that command authority to officials on the ground to provide the word if it did come down. Again, so much there that would be part of this interaction. But what we can guarantee is right now there is a crew from the National Transportation Safety Board that they sit in their offices with their go-bags, ready to go at moment's notice, any time there is an issue that is involving an aircraft, an airplane, a train, some type of mass transit where they can jump on an airplane and get going and actually get that investigation underway. That's no doubt happening right now. They will be on the scene no

doubt in a matter of hours to start digging into those details. What happened here and then working back to determine what were the decisions that were made out there by the pilot or by others that were in the vicinity to cause what we're seeing right now on our screen and that appears to be a crash of this aircraft.

VANIER: All right, Josh, stay with me. Stand by for just a second. We've just hit the top of the hour. It's just past 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time here in the US. It is 10:00 p.m. where Josh is on the West Coast in the US and where this story is happening and for anybody joining us right now, I just want to reset this story for a second.

A lot of details are still missing, but this is what we know that Alaska Airlines say they are investigating the unauthorized take off of one of their partner's planes. This happening at Seattle's main airport on Friday evening, and that's according to a tweet from the airport. This is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. So this is not a small neighborhood airport where people go to learn how to fly planes. This is a major international hub.

The plane crashed in Pierce County. You are watching pictures of that scene right now. Obviously, that area is on fire. This is where the plane crashed. It's not far from the airport. The plane was reportedly from Horizon Air and it was a Q400, so that's a popular plane as we're saying, a second ago, it seats around 75 people. Again, not a tiny plane, not the kind of plane, the two-seater, three- seater that you learn to pilot and to fly on, and with that, I want to go back to Josh. You are a former FBI agent, what would the FBI be doing right now?

CAMPBELL: Right now, I was actually just communicating with someone that they're locally Washington state and it's very soon. They don't have a lot of details going out right now. Obviously, any incident where you're involving a commercial air craft, you're involving a some potential threat to the public, the FBI, state, Federal, local law enforcement officers will be involved.

And if you think about it, I mean, this is when you talk about an aircraft, something that can move very rapidly to a number of different areas in the vicinity, different states, you're going to have very much an all-hands on-deck approach.

So this was actually an aircraft that took off there out of Sea-Tac - Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and it appeared to, actually take - if you looked at some of the flight data tracking that we've been looking at, it took a circuitous route and made a number of strange maneuvers, and then actually ended up crashing, but it was moving south, so moving towards the State of Oregon, so you would have officials that were there with the Oregon National Guard, with the Air Force that would obviously be on alert and if you talk about the kind of the larger national command authority, you would have NORAD folks there in Colorado that would be monitors the movement of every aircraft that takes place in the continental United States and even beyond that or any other partner.


CAMPBELL: So, it's something that we'd have eyes on, but then the question would be, were they able to make contact with the aircraft? So this is someone that actually - we know based on some of these earlier reports had unauthorized access, was able to take off with the aircraft, but once ...


VANIER: Yes, about that Josh, let me interrupt you for a second and bring you and our viewers some information that we are getting. This is coming to us from the Pierce County Sheriff Office. They say a mechanic from an unknown airline stole a plane from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Friday evening, okay, so this is the new information. It is a mechanic, somebody who was working at the airport. We don't know what airline that person he or she was from.

According to the Sheriff's Twitter account, the stolen plane crashed into Ketron Island, it's believed that the mechanic's lack of flying skills caused the crash.

So hold on. We are now, if this is to be believed and again, this comes from the Pierce County Sheriff's Office. This is somebody who doesn't know how to fly? And who steals a plane?

CAMPBELL: Well, as we mentioned earlier, and I can tell from my own experience having taken actually minimal flying lessons in the past. I mean, the focus was always on landing. It is easier to take off an aircraft, to actually take off than it is to actually bring one to a halt, to turn an airborne vehicle into a ground borne vehicle, that's almost the most dangerous part, so if this is someone, again that we can't get into his or her head.

We don't know what the motivation was, but someone who knew their way around an airplane and was able to at least understand generally, the physics that were involved and manipulating the controls to get the aircraft in movement ...


CAMPBELL: ... and down the runway and then up, that's something that would be a lot easier to actually bring it back to the ground. And again, what I was saying earlier is we don't know if the air traffic control ATC was actually in communication with the pilot or the mechanic now as we call him, was actually in communication with this person or to try to vector him back to an airfield whether that was Sea-Tac or Boeing field or another smaller air field in the area that would have been outside of the larger urban area. That we don't know.

But again, a lot of that will be part of this investigation. We will have recordings of all of that. These communications with someone who actually made his or her own motivation known as far as what they were doing. If they were agreeing to actually bring it back to an airfield that ATC was vectoring them to on those recordings as well, but again, just because you decide that I've have made a mistake now, and I am going to try to land this aircraft, it doesn't mean you have the knowledge to do so.

We don't know what took place here again. That will be part of that investigation. It better be something that we will particularly watch.

VANIER: But that raises the question and stand by, Josh, but that does raise the question, if you are going to somehow take off in a plane and you do not have the flying skills to land it, one would assume, I am making an inference here, that that is somebody who never expected to make it out alive for whatever reason. Whether that person wanted to take their own life, maybe somebody else's life, we don't know. That's a question I'll put to you again in the second. I want to bring in another piece of information to our viewers.

Again, from the Sheriff's Office here, the Pierce County Sheriff, he says two military F-15s chased the plane. So that addresses what Josh Campbell was telling us a second ago, two F-15s chased the plane, but were not involved in the crash. So, again, if this is to be believed, the F-15s did not shoot down that plane.

Let's bring in Zach Helm. He's at the Sea-Tac airport right now and he joins me on the phone. Zach, I understand that you saw this plane while it was airborne?

ZACH HELM, AMERICAN WRITER: I did not see the plane airborne, but I was in the terminal where it supposedly came out of.

VANIER: Okay, tell me a little bit about what you know, what you saw, anything you can tell us.

HELM: Well, I was in the plane about to take off at the time it was hijacked. I did not see ..

VANIER: In that very plane?

HELM: I was not in the plane there, no, I was in another plane in the Alaska Airlines (inaudible). And I did not see it take off. But I was told to get out of my plane because there has been a hijacking.

VANIER: So in other words, how long before departure was this? How long before your flight was supposed to take off?

HELM: We were all boarded and we were about to go onto the runway. We had gotten all the luggage. Everyone had been boarded. We had been seated. The instructional video had been done and we were ready to go and then the news came to us.

VANIER: So this was just minutes, in other words, minutes before you guys were going to be airborne. Minutes before, they got all the passengers off your plane.

HELM: Correct.

VANIER: Did they tell you why?

HELM: Yes, they were saying an employee had stolen the plane that attempted or had been said to try to crash the plane.

VANIER: This was coming from the airline officials?

HELM: Yes.

VANIER: So, detail that message for us. Because honestly, it surprises me, usually when something goes wrong, whether it's when your airborne or anywhere in an airport or on a plane, usually, the officials manning the plane, where there's the stewards, the captain, they are pretty coy about what they say to the passengers.

HELM: Right. I think he said because he was trying to get us safely off the plane, so nothing had happened while we were on land.

VANIER: All right, so he told you, I just want to double check with this. He told you an employee had hijacked a plane and was in the air and that's why everybody had to get out?

HELM: Yes.

VANIER: All right. What happened after that?

HELM: We all got off the plane into the terminal like every other airline for Alaska Airline flight and we waited in the terminal.

VANIER: So, at this point, I am assuming the terminal is starting to fill up as this is happening to all the plans around that was scheduled to take off roughly in that time slot.

HELM: Right, the terminal was full.

VANIER: All right, okay, Zach, stay with me for a second. We are pulling in all of the threads of information here. We are working on this as I speak to you and as I speak to Josh Campbell as well. What we are getting now from the Pierce County Sheriff and that's where all the previous information came to us from is this is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info, this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved. Okay, Zach, let me just go to you for a second.


VANIER: You were minutes away from finding yourself airborne with apparently a suicidal plane, just how do you feel?

HELM: Kind of scary to think about.

VANIER: Yes, were you traveling alone?

HELM: I was traveling with my mom but she is not sitting next to me.

VANIER: Okay, what is she saying?

HELM: She is pretty mellow. She was feeling good that we were safe in the terminal. VANIER: All right, okay, Zach Helm, look, thank you so much for

giving us your story and what happened to you at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. That's great. Zach, we will speak to you a little later. Thanks again. Now, I want to read this tweet by Alaska Airlines. "We've confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorized takeoff from Sea-Tac around 8:00 p.m. has gone down near the Ketron Island in Pierce County, Washington. We're working to confirm who was on board. We believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane."

All right, first of all, if that is true, let me just say that is a relief. No passengers. We are obviously keeping our fingers crossed that that is indeed - turns out to be true, turns out to be accurate. No passengers, no other staff on board.

Let me go back to Josh. Josh, there are so many things about this story that are striking. How easy is it to - how easy is it to take off on a Q400? And I am just looking at a picture of the plane. We are not talking about a tiny plane.

CAMPBELL: A little less skill than a jet aircraft. If you think of the larger jumbo jets that are flying in and out of Sea-Tac and some of the major international airports, but one thing that is interesting to keep in mind here is just for the public that has flown, that are used to these airports and the ins and outs of commercial flying, I mean if you think about it, if a mechanic were to try to hijack an airplane that was sitting at a commercial gate, there is no way that a mechanic could make his or her way into the cockpit and somehow back the plane up from a gate.

It didn't happen that way, these aircrafts are pushed out by a team of ground personnel. And so you know, that actually gives me a little more comfort. Obviously, this is a very serious security breach that we've seen here. But that tells me this was likely an aircraft that was sitting at a hangar somewhere that may have been undergoing routine maintenance. It may have been part of this penalty boxes that we see where aircrafts actually sit out there and actually wait to come into the gate for an aircraft to take off the next day.

But this isn't like it was sitting at a gate waiting to take off full of passengers. Because there's no way that one person can actually do that to make that take place, which makes it appear it would be more or like as I mentioned, more - probably an aircraft that is sitting at a hangar that's undergoing maintenance and this person had access probably to probably in the course of his or her duties was able to get on board the aircraft, was able to manipulate the controls and was able to get it out to the runway and then up the speed.

Again, a very - obviously a tragic situation. We are sitting here looking at the plane crash, we don't know what the circumstances were there on the ground in Pierce County if there were other people that may have been impacted, but at least the best case, if there is one, when you compare that to an aircraft that's full of passengers, so that's good news.

The second which being - this is something that aircraft employees, not only there in Seattle but NTSB, airline employees around the country and indeed, around the world are going to be looking at because the one thing that you're always trying to determine is what is the threat? What is the risk that we have here? And again, any operation is only as safe as the men and women that are actually involved in it and airline employees and pilots who actually undergo psychological screening. It's a little less though obviously for mechanics because they don't have that same type of access that impacts the control when you're involving other people and other passengers, other souls aboard aircraft, but obviously very serious if someone who has access to an aircraft is able to get it off the ground and then it becomes airborne, if they have other sinister means that they are attempting to employ, that's obviously a very dangerous threat to public safety.

Again, there are a lot of questions that we have right now. A lot of answers that we don't have. I think the only silver lining, and again, obviously this is a tragedy, but you didn't have someone that appeared to be at least trying to take off and then vector that aircraft to a large, highly populated area that would then cause massive loss of life, we don't know. We can't in this person's mind.

VANIER: No, and I am looking at pictures of Ketron Island where this plane crashed. It's very low density population. So, again, fingers crossed, we don't know what the situation was on the ground. Obviously, there was a plane crash and that's dangerous. It looks just from the satellite pictures of Ketron Island, it looks like there is a distinct possibility that this could have just landed in the forest and not killed anybody.

Josh Campbell, thank you so much. I'm going to bring the latest information to our viewers. The Pierce County Sheriff is tweeting and Sheriff, we hear you loud and clear. He is saying, "I am working with the FBI and military," all the information sent out here is confirmed. Sheriff Paul Pastor will be the contact.


VANIER: Okay, here is what we know at what is still a fairly early hour in this developing story. We know that a plane was stolen. It was stolen by a mechanic working at Sea-Tac. That's the Seattle- Tacoma International Airport in Washington state, so northwestern United States for international viewers. That plane took off and two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled but they did not shoot it down. Again, according to the County Sheriff, they were not involved in the crash.

The reason the plane crashed according to the sheriff is because of the lack of flying skills of the mechanic who had taken it and flown the plane in the first place. Also vital information if you're just catching up on this, if you're just joining us, there were no passengers and staff. No one else aboard this plane. It was a Q400.

Let's get to CNN safety analyst from David Soucie, he's on the phone from Denver, Colorado. Tell us a little bit about the type of plane, the Q400. DAVID SOUCIE, SAFETY ANALYST, CNN: Well, the Q400 is a twin turbo

prop. It is one that has had some kind of issues with some icing and things like that in the past, but it's a great airplane. It is a good backbone airplane for a lot of computer airlines right now.

VANIER: Have you seen anything like this? Have you ever been called up to report on a story that even remotely resembles this one?

SOUCIE: Yes. Actually, I have investigated an accident like this one time. There was a ...

VANIER: A suicide flight?

SOUCIE: Well, it wasn't really a suicide flight and as Josh was saying, it may have just been from the lack of skill of the mechanic. But mechanics often routinely can take aircraft out on the tarmac.

VANIER: But, David, respectfully, if you have lack of skill, and you don't know how to fly a plane and then you steal a plane, that is what many would see as a suicide flight because you know you're not going to land it, right?

SOUCIE: Well, that's a good possibility, but we just don't know what he was thinking or what he was doing there. I would be more concerned about his intent. And again, it would have been suicide, but I think the public safety issue is the biggest concern of anyone right now, is what was his intent when he took that airplane? It wasn't just for the joy of flight that's for sure and if it was suicide, there's other ways to go.

VANIER: So clarify that for me, what do you mean by what was his intent?

SOUCIE: Well, was his intent to get the aircraft up and then put it into a populated area? The public safety aspect is my biggest concern with that because he has got a weapon his hands at that point. It could very well be dangerous for many people on the ground.

VANIER: What is your thinking based on what we know and I know it is sketchy.

SOUCIE: Well, it is too early to say anything really. It is again, we don't know what he was doing. But my early take on this is a mechanic has - it is a vulnerability for the airlines and for our whole industry right now. There's the ability for a mechanic to take an aircraft out alone.

Now, there is protocol where he should not have been in the airplane alone at all if he was taxiing out and asked for clearance to get to the taxiway, that plane would have been stopped long before it got to a runway to take off and should have been at Sea-Tac, unless he was telling the tower something different. Telling them a story that I have got to go out and run this aircraft. I'm going to test the engines et cetera et cetera and that mechanics have pretty free rein to do that and so this one went a little bit further. VANIER: So when you say this was a vulnerability for the industry, do

you mean that before today, you had it in mind that mechanics were perhaps in a kind of - were in a position to perhaps exploit a loophole or weakness in the whole the security system?

SOUCIE: Yes, I do. I think that's something that - it is something I thought of before. It's something that security experts have talked about before and that is why there is protocol that no mechanic should be taxiing an aircraft on a live runway area or even - anywhere on the tarmac without two people in the aircraft. So how he got in that aircraft by himself and got clearance to go out. That is the vulnerability, the fact that they didn't follow protocol, that needs to be tightened rein on.

VANIER: David, stay with me. I want to bring you updates, they're coming to us from the Pierce County Sheriff, first of all, the last one that he put up was just moments ago. All right, so this one, first, "Follow this thread for official info. This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info. This is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved." So that's important. Not a terrorist incident. David, I know you were saying that he's got that improvised pilot that mechanic cum pilot had a weapon in his hands but the sheriff is telling us that they're working background on him. He is a 29-year-olds suicidal male and that this was not a terrorist incident.


VANIER: I also want to bring you this last one - tweet by the Sheriff. "Told the F-15s made it within a few minutes of theft of the plane. Pilots kept plane out of harm's way and people on the ground are safe. Yay, Air Force." They may not admit for a few days, but it is true. Look, that's got to put a smile on anybody's face who has been following this story.

SOUCI: Yes, absolutely and ever since 9/11, the response time of these military jets is so quick especially around that Seattle area and around any large metropolitan area. If there is an aircraft that's off radar, if there's an aircraft that is not supposed to be there, it does not have authorization. It's amazing how quickly they could respond to that.

VANIER: What is the protocol for that? What are they supposed to do?

SOUCI: The protocol is to fly and monitor and you fly and monitor to see what the direction of the aircraft is. So you identify what the hazard areas are, what are at risk and go over highly populated areas and that sort of thing, so the aircraft, they try to guide the aircraft to get close to it on one side and push the aircraft one way or the other making the pilot nervous to say, "Hey, I'm going to get hit if I keep going that way."

So they actually guide them away from the cities, they guide them away and if the aircraft is not going to, it is not at imminent danger to a high population, they'll just let that aircraft fly and run out of gas if it has to, but if it is going to harm anyone at that point, they are authorized to shoot the aircraft down.

VANIER: David, stay with me. We're going to take a quick break and I'll speak to you right on the back of this.


VANIER: Fast moving story here on CNN, so let's recap what we know about the crash in Seattle. Alaska Airlines says they are investigating the unauthorized take off of one of its partner's plane at Seattle main airport Friday evening. This according to a tweet from the airline.

It crashed in Pierce County, not far from the airport. You are looking at live pictures from the scene. Of course, it's night time in Washington just past 10:00 p.m., almost 10:30 there on the West Coast, the plane was reportedly from Horizon Air. It was a Q400 that is a very popular commuter aircraft ,which seats around 75 people on a normal flight.

CNN's safety analyst, David Soucie joins us on the phone from Denver, Colorado. David, let me remind our viewers what we know about the person. It was a mechanic we are being told. It was a mechanic from the airport who stole the plane. He was 29-years old. He was from Pierce County. The Sheriff's Department is currently working background on him. More importantly, they are saying this was not a terrorist incident. This was a suicide flight mission. Also of key importance here, there was no one else on the plane with him. So no one else was killed in the crash. And no one else on the ground and two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled and they steered the plane away from the danger zone. That's what we're being told by the Pierce County Sheriff Department.

Tell us a little bit about how that works. You were telling us before the break.

SOUCIE: Yes, they box the aircraft in and I'm not sure how fast or how quickly this aircraft was traveling through the air, but those particular aircrafts are able to go to different speeds and they will actually bank to the aircraft on each side, left and right. So no matter where this pilot looks, he is not going to try to steer into these jets. They are very ominous.

And they'd be sitting right over those wings, very, very close to the aircraft, so if they're asking him, or thinking that if he could fly one way or the other. Now, the only thing that concerns me about that, if I was in those airplanes is if this is a mechanic, it is not an experienced pilot, they ...

VANIER: Yes, how does he react to that?

SOUCIE: ... a little bit further away, he's probably a little further away, but trying to keep that aircraft into the right area.

VANIER: Okay, the pictures we are seeing, it is hard to judge the size of the perimeter where we are seeing flames and plane debris. Fortunately, Ketron Island where it landed is a very low density, low population area. Are you seeing the pictures, David that I am seeing?

SOUCIE: No, I can't see them right now. It looks (inaudible) ...

VANIER: Yes, well, it's night time, so we are seeing flames in the forest. I was just going to ask you what the danger was. We don't know the specifics of the speed at which the plane was flying, et cetera, but in a crash like that, of how far and how wide a perimeter is endangered when a plane crashes like that?

SOUCIE: Well, it depends on the angle that's happened here as it hits the ground. If it's going in more perpendicular, it can vary from - even a 373 crash in Colorado Springs here, was only a scattered pattern of about 50 feet wide 50 by 60. And so it can be that small or it can be can be strewn out across hundreds and hundreds of yards because if it skids across, it will take itself apart. If the engines are in full power, it can pull the wings further apart. So you can get quite a scattered pattern and even though that's not a densely populated area, there are homes out there and there are homes in that area. So the chance that pieces of that aircraft could have come down is still a possibility.

VANIER: CNN law enforcement analyst John Campbell is standing by. He is with us, too. Josh, with what we know that this is not a terrorist incident, this was a suicide mission, but bearing in mind what David told us, this is a vulnerability in the system. The mechanics getting access to a plane. Can you comment to that?

CAMPBELL: It is, and this is obviously any time an incident happens, there's always ...


VANIER: Did you say that we knew - hold on, Josh, just a second, we knew it was a vulnerability?

CAMPBELL: Well, what I am saying is obviously, any organization or structure where you have human - it's only as safe as the weakest link. So, when these types of incidents, obviously, when you are talking about aircrafts that are involving passengers, there's a lot of scrutiny that goes into pilots, and psychological analysis and the like, obviously, it's less so when we talk about mechanics because they are not actually ferrying human beings and passengers along with them.

But that doesn't mean it is not dangerous. Obviously, you have a mechanic that has access to an aircraft, that can quickly turn into a weapon as we've seen. If say, this person had that as his or her motivation that they wanted to take this aircraft up and then use it as some type of offensive weapon. Then we're obviously be talking about something very different right now, and that is obviously a vulnerability.


CAMPBELL: But in any type of incident like this, the investigators will be looking back to determine what went wrong and what can we change as far as the structures to replace to ensure that this does not happen again. This will be part of the investigation that will take place and to actually look at the structure, to look at the processes as David was mentioning earlier, even a protocol as simple as having two people aboard an aircraft before it takes off.

If this was someone who was able to gain access to an aircraft because perhaps it was sitting in a hangar or elsewhere where it was outside the view of other people and security personnel, if one person was able to get on the aircraft and manipulate it because he had access to, that is obviously an issue and that's going to be a lot of scrutiny that we're going to see.

Two issues there - the access and then what brought this aircraft to a halt that will all be part of that investigation.

VANIER: All right, Josh Campbell, our law enforcement analysis. David Soucie, our CNN safety analyst. I'm going to speak to both of you on the back of this break. Obviously, this raises questions, what were the safety screenings for the mechanic. Did he go through all the proper vetting for anybody who can have access to an aircraft, anybody who can have access to the restricted areas within an airport? We're going to have to be asking these questions. It is going to take not just hours, it's going to take days to get these answers. We go to a short break. We keep asking the questions after this.


VANIER: Rapidly developing news. We can bring you more information on that aircraft which crashed near Seattle, Washington after a mechanic stole it from Seattle's main airport. I want to show you the video now that we are getting about a minute or so of footage of the plane. You see it looping and really keep following this. This is just incredible to watch. So this is the context if you are just joining us.

A mechanic stole the plane from Seattle - you heard the voice there, what is this guy doing? Well, this is was a suicide mission. This is what the Pierce County Sheriff was telling us. This was a suicide mission from a 29-year-old mechanic who stole the plane and did not have the ability to land it. Again according to the sheriff, two F-15 fighter jets within minutes were on either side of that plane and then forced it to land or at least steered it away, from the information we have now, from population centers.

We are joined by Josh Campbell, CNN law enforcement analyst and Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst. Mary, we are seeing the F-15s. This is very impressive stuff. Mary, are you seeing what I am seeing?

MARY SCHIAVO, AVIATION ANALYST, CNN: I am. I am seeing it on the air.

VANIER: Okay, this is your field. Tell me what you think.

SCHIAVO: Well, to be able to do a maneuver like that, it is obviously not a coordinated loop and turn. I mean, one summer, I actually worked the air shows, a long, long time ago and they are hard to do. I mean, you can't hop in a plane, a beginning pilot or somebody who has just gotten their ...

VANIER: You are telling me that the loop that we are seeing now, you are telling me that is hard to do? Because to me that looks like somebody who doesn't know how to fly a plane and was just hanging on by the skin of his teeth. You are telling me that is a maneuver that he may have done on purpose?

SCHIAVO: Well, it could be or it could be somebody that does not fly. If he is able to do this, and he comes out of it in the video that I am seeing and he is able to pull it out and ...

VANIER: Yes, this is daredevil stuff.

SCHIAVO: And fly again. Yes, if you are able to do that, a big plane flying, it can be very difficult. It could also be somebody who just got lucky and he doesn't know how to fly.

VANIER: Is this plane easy to fly?

SCHIAVO: Pardon?

VANIER: Is this plane easy to fly? It is a Q400.

SCHIAVO: Well, I mean, I wouldn't say easy to fly, it's a twin engine plane, you've just got a few hours as a private pilot, you just start in what's called a single engine land, that's your first rating, and then a single engine on a plane without retractable gear and somebody - obviously, a mechanic is already qualified and to be able to do this and move the plane at the airport, they have to have what is called run and taxi qualified. Meaning, this person was already qualified to do that at the airport. I mean, if you had access to the planes, you clearly get that possible.

VANIER: Hold on, Mary, respectfully, let me interrupt you because that's very interesting, what is that run and taxi qualification. What can - for somebody who has that qualification, what can they do and what can they not do presumably?

SCHIAVO: Oh okay, well, if a mechanic has run and taxi qualifications, literally, that person is allowed to move the aircraft around the airport. They are allowed to start the plane. They are allowed to run the plane. They can move the plane from point A to point B.

VANIER: From the cockpit, correct? Sitting in the pilot seat?

SCHIAVO: Yes, exactly. Sure. Yes, and there have been accidents before where mechanics with what's called run and taxi qualified have had accidents. They have run off the runways and flown the planes like this, but they've run off the runway, they hit jet bridges, they've had incidents where they hit other planes at the airport. So, it's not unusual.

In fact, it's a day-to-day occurrence where a mechanics have this ability and they are allowed to be cleared by air traffic control. They have to ask ground control and air traffic control for the clearances before they move the plane just like the pilot would. And so initially, it wouldn't be considered odd for a mechanic to ask for permission to move the plane or to taxi the plane because they are do that if they are qualified to do that and they have this permission, they do it all the time. It is not odd.

VANIER: Okay, so what is the gap in terms of know-how, in terms of expertise and skill? Between being able to taxi the plane and then being able to add a stretch in a pinch, just take off. I am not - and I am in no way suggesting that a mechanic skill level is not far from that from a pilot. But, I ask this question because and I think anybody who is taking flying lessons, I took one, will relate to this.


VANIER: If you get the tiny little two-seater plane that they train you on, you realize that within an hour of training, you are in a position to basically turn the engine on and then pull on the lever, and with enough speed, you get up in the air and you are airborne, so that's my question. How much of a gap is there between the mechanic knowing the taxi and land - the taxi qualification and being able to take off?

SCHIAVO: Well, if you are a mechanic on this plane, you already know that. if you had a a few lessons in a small single engine airplane and you know the takeoff speed as you are rolling down the runway, if you know that's very important. The two very important speeds of V1 and V2. V1 is the speed where you can take off and V2 is the speed where you can't abort your take off anymore.

I mean, if you are a mechanic you already know those speeds because they are in the manual and if you have a flight simulator, if you've had some lessons, you know what the speed rolling the runway, you can pull back on the yoke and you are airborne. However, looking at the video, and again, I am watching on the screen like everybody else. Looking at the video, he has got the gear retracted or she, whoever this mechanic is, has the gear retracted, so they obviously, are very familiar and they know how to do that on the plane.

So this is someone - the mechanic, once you know all the systems on the plane and you know the important air speeds, you can do it, sure.

VANIER: Yes, so this is clearly someone whose skills go quite a bit beyond.

SCHIAVO: Well, I think so. Like I said, if this was somebody's first flight or they haven't had any training at all, I mean, just pulling back on the yoke and lifting off for the first time is a wonderful thrill remembering way back to my first flight, but it's also very scary. But I don't blame if I think this person has the skills, maybe he had some training, maybe he had flight simulators at home, but to do a loop on an aircraft that is not an aerobatic aircraft and to pull out of it and coming out of it okay and keep flying.

There are people who try and don't have the skills and have crashed, so I don't know I think this person has some skills.

VANIER: Mary, stand by. There would be a quick break, and when we come back, I want to ask you about the security aspect of this.


VANIER: More on this rapidly developing story of that plane that was stolen at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and then crashed a few moments later not far from Seattle. Let's bring in John Waldron. He captured some of the remarkable video of the stolen plane in the air. That is what we were showing you moments ago. John, tell me everything about the circumstances in which you filmed this. When did you look up? What made you look up? Tell me everything.

JOHN WALDRON, WITNESS: Well, I went down to Chambers Bay for my nightly walk like I always do and I noticed - excuse me, a couple of military fighter jets kind of flying around the area. I looked up and saw a twin turbo prop type transport aircraft flying around. Excuse me. Sorry, and the two fighters were right behind him. And I thought, well, that's kind of cool. Like a little air show or something going on, but it's just - something didn't seem right.

And so I took out my phone and started to video tape the aircraft. And right about the time I started taping, shortly after, I noticed this transport aircraft all of a sudden, the pilot just pulls the stick back and he went into a complete loop. And I thought, my god, he's going to stall this plane and crash.

He was able to get it controlled, level back off. And he was probably, I'm going to guess, many no less than a hundred feet or so above the water and he was coming straight for me. So, I thought my god, I've got to get ready to run if he doesn't know what he is doing, he is going to kill somebody.

And at the last second, he pulled back almost straight up, almost stalled the aircraft. He managed to get control again, it leveled off and then he flew off towards (inaudible), and at that point, I stopped the video and I turned back around and watched the sunset which is kind of what I went down there to do in the first place, and (inaudible) and as soon as I looked, I stared at a column of smoke, a very large flash and a very loud explosion, and I was (inaudible) a gentleman down there and I said, "I think he just crashed that plane. I'm not sure whether it was an exercise." There was a lot of time (inaudible) expose this guy on the ground to simulate an explosion, but I thought, not on Ketron Island. That's not (inaudible) ...

VANIER: Hey, John, do we still have you on the line? All right, that was John Waldron. We'll get him back up on the line, but an amazing story he was telling us. John Waldron is the man that shot what you're seeing on your screen right now. Really stunning footage.

So the Q400 had been stolen moments before from Seattle Tacoma International Airport being followed, chased by two F15 fighter jets. You saw the daredevil maneuver just above the water and then moments later, it crashed on Ketron Island. We'll get John back up to talk about that. Mary Schiavo is still with us.

Mary, one thing I should have asked you earlier, tell us about Sea-Tac - Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. How big an international - how big an airport are we talking about?


SCHIAVO: Well, we are talking about a major international airport with planes of all sizes operating there from 777s to dream liners, 787s, Airbus aircrafts. It is a major airport. You have a lot of flights landing there from China. It's obviously an airport with a lot of security because you have a lot of international flights, but you have two very different worlds at Sea-Tac or any major airport.

You've got the world that the sterile - meaning security that the passengers deal with and that TSA patrols and all that you see, but people in the rest of the airport, in the bowels of the airport, they come to work to their own portals. I mean, it is a very different world for a mechanic at the airport. They come to work like anyone else reporting for a job. And so you don't ever see that part of the airport because it's on what we call the airside or the sterile side of the airport. So they live an entirely different world. People in the airport probably never met this mechanic. He didn't come to work through the airport. He came to work to the employee's portal world.

VANIER: Yes, Mary, I remember three years ago, a huge airline disaster cost many, many lives, 150 people lived in that Germanwings crash in Southern France in the Pyrenees.


VANIER: And it immerged from that story that the pilot was in a depressive state of mind and he had mental health issues and wanted to kill himself and killed everybody else on the plane. So of course that raised many, many questions afterwards about whether he should have been cleared to even be flying that plane, whether the airline and whether the civil aviation authorities missed the signals.

So the question I am going to ask you is pretty much the same thing about a mechanic. We are told that this is a suicidal mechanic. What kind of vetting do you know occurs for mechanics?

SCHIAVO: Well, the most rigorous vetting is on their inter frame power plant skills that the most vetting that they get is whether they are able to check the aircraft because remember, to move a plane on the ground, you're not considered being the PIC - the pilot in command. All you have to do from your airline or from your aviation operation, or even the express plane, all you have to be qualified to do is what I mentioned before, is run and taxi qualified, meaning you're allowed to drive the plane as if you're driving a truck on the ground, why? Because you're not authorized to fly it.

So you don't even have to be a pilot. So if you don't have any of those clearances that pilots go through for airlines, for example the rules are very strict. Your record follows you to every airline that you work for. It is the body of work that goes with you by Federal regulation, you can't hide one part of your record.

VANIER: That's when you're a pilot you said? SCHIAVO: Yes, when you're a pilot and then you have the initial hire

screening, they have rudimentary mental health screen, and then you have to have a pilot medial on which you have to disclose any mental problems, if you're taking any kind antidepressants. So those must be reported to the Federal aviation administration, but you don't go through any of that as a pilot who is run and taxi qualified. You just basically able to maneuver the plane, you're kind of like the person who drives the tug at the airport, moves planes from here to there, except you don't need a tug. You are qualified to turn it on, to power it up, you're just not qualified take it off because you're not a pilot. You don't have the pilot's ticket. This person obviously had some training and knew the plane very well because as a mechanic, you knew how to put the gear up, knew the important speed of which you could take off and avoid stalling.

Got the engines with two engines. That's was Q400, it's a remake of an older plane. They upgraded it. They made the engines after - oh, about ten years ago, this was a new version of an older turbo prop with better engines.

VANIER: Mary, respectfully, if I could stop you for a second, I was listening intently to what you were saying about the qualifications and the vetting there is for a pilot versus the vetting there is for a mechanic. And while it makes sense on its face, listening to you it seems to me like today has uncovered or proved a vulnerability in the system, like David Souci was telling us earlier.

SCHIAVO: Oh sure. Oh absolutely, and it's been an issue for some time because the three-fourths of the people who work at the airport haven't had vetting or security that even a passenger has had. It is a huge loophole and it was discussed at length.

VANIER: Is that because no one envisioned that something like this would happen? That a mechanic could do this?


SCHIAVO: No, I think they have. It's been envisioned and there have been planes stolen from airports before, albeit smaller planes, and there have been people who have gotten onboard planes and tried to commandeer planes at airports before. That's happened before as well, but there was push back. The industry pushed back on requiring full security and background checks in the industry that the aviation industry has pushed back mildly on medical health training even for pilots, other than the additional hiring. So there's been push back from the industry and they said the expense would be too great.

VANIER: Mary, all right, thank you, Mary. I'm going to have to stop you there just for a few minute. Thank you for your patience with me. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to recap everything we know right at the top of the hour. That's in four minutes. Stay with us.