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Suicidal Mechanic Steals and Crashes Plane. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 11, 2018 - 02:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An aircraft has crashed near Seattle, Washington, after a mechanic stole it from Seattle's main airport. The aircraft took off without authorization and without passengers Friday night.

The person in control of the plane was an airline mechanic and has only been identified as a 29-year-old man from Pierce County, Washington. It is believed that the mechanic's lack of flying skills led to the crash. Normal operations of the airport were interrupted for a time but have since resumed.

Let me highlight the key facts for you once again. The Pierce County sheriff telling us it was not a terrorist incident. Yes, warplanes were scrambled and got to the plane minutes after it took off. But this was not a terrorist incident. It was a suicide mission.

You are seeing now video of that plane. You saw that maneuver, that is very hard to pull off, just above the waters off the coast of Seattle. Whether or not the mechanic, the then pilot knew what he was doing, whether he got lucky, whether he was actually skilled at flying, we don't know. John Waldron captured this video. And you're about to see the F-15s appear on your screen.

John, run us again, please, for people who haven't heard what you told us earlier, everything you saw from the beginning.

JOHN WALDRON, WITNESS: You bet, Cyril. Thank you for having me here with you here tonight. So I decided go down to Chambers Bay for a nightly walk, like I often do. I noticed a couple of F-15s flying around, which isn't unusual in this area. Then I notice a twin engine turbo prop aircraft flying around and the two F-15s appeared to be chasing it, for lack of a better term.

So I just kind of blew it off and I thought, maybe they're practicing for an air show or something like that or who knows, you know. So I started to capture video just because I thought it was kind of bizarre. And I continued to watch. And then all of a sudden I noticed --

(CROSSTALK) VANIER: Did you understand what you were seeing?

Did you understand what you were watching at the time?

WALDRON: Honestly, I thought they were practicing for an air show, to be perfectly honest. I had no idea that the aircraft had been stolen from SeaTac. I had no idea what was going on at all, honestly.

VANIER: But the F-15s, were they not moving in a menacing way?

WALDRON: They looked to me like they were chasing him away but I couldn't really tell from where. They were over an area we call Fox Island, which is in the background of that video, which is fairly populated.

And I noticed they were moving away from that area. They flew over it briefly and then headed back toward where I was at, shooting the video. But you know, they weren't flying fast. They were keeping pace with this other aircraft. But looked to me like they were chasing him down.

I thought, well, this is really odd, so I kept the video rolling. He pulled the stick back and did a complete loop in this aircraft.


VANIER: We are watching the maneuver right now. It is really impressive, just from a technical standpoint. It's stunning.

WALDRON: Absolutely, yes. I couldn't believe he recovered. And luckily, he did. And if I had to guess, I'd say maybe he was no less than 100 feet above the water but I was probably, I don't know, that was probably a mile away from where I was.

I thought, God, he'd better pull up or he's going to crash. So I was prepared to honestly run and take cover because I didn't know what was going on, if he had lack of flying skills or if he was just showing off.

But I got a little worried for a second. And then he pulled pretty much straight up and kind of at an angle and almost stalled the aircraft. Somehow, he got it leveled back off and then made his way down toward Steilacoom and Ketron Island.

And I turned away for a second, turned back and he was in what appeared to be probably a 30-degree dive toward Ketron Island. So I turned away again to watch the sunset, turned back again and that's when I heard the explosion, saw a bright pinpoint little area of flame and the smoke.

And thought, oh, my God, I think he just crashed.

VANIER: Yes. We just saw that second video that you shot with the plume of smoke in the distance.

[02:05:00] VANIER: And you're absolutely right because we are also seeing, screen right, what the crash site looks like now, flames and obvious it's the middle of the night. Well, not in the middle of the night; it is 11:00 pm West Coast time. So we can't get good visuals on the place.

But that is absolutely what you were looking at. What you saw was the plane crashing.


VANIER: What kind of places --


WALDRON: Say it one more time?

VANIER: What kind of place is Ketron Island?

WALDRON: It is slightly residential area --

VANIER: It is residential?

WALDRON: -- but very, very lightly populated. Most of the homes I'm aware of are on the western side of the island, which would be to the right of that smoke plume. So not many people on that island, just a few resort cabins and whatnot. I've never actually been on there but just from what I have been told by folks that have been.

VANIER: And the good news is we are told by the Pierce County sheriff there was nobody killed in the crash on the ground. So nobody killed in the plane other than the mechanic who was flying the plane and nobody killed on the ground. So only one person died of this. This is this mechanic.

Again, a 29-year old; Pierce County sheriff telling us they are working background on him now and this was a suicidal mission.

John, without your video, we would not have nearly the understanding of the story that we do now. This is just amazing stuff.

Did you speak to the people around you?

Did anybody else have an idea of what was going on?

WALDRON: People were kind of winding down, getting ready to leave because they close the park at 9 o'clock. So I spoke to a gentleman very briefly and I -- he said, boy, that doesn't look good.

And I said no. It could be air show practice. Maybe they're doing a fake bombing run or something and they've got explosives guys on the ground. But I said that would be really odd for that island because there's nothing out there, no reason to be out doing anything like that there.

You would do that more towards a military base, like another 10 miles east of that location. It just didn't dawn on me what happened until I got home and looked it up on Google and it was all over the Internet. And my heart sank.

And it truly goes out to him and his family, once the reality of what happened set in. I thought, oh, my God, I just witnessed a plane crash. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I'm still in shock.

VANIER: Well, what you witnessed, to be specific, was actually you saw a plane being hijacked. You saw a plane that had been stolen. And you saw F-15s and you saw the U.S. Air Force being scrambled to try and avert disaster.

But at the time, which is what transpires, from what you're telling me, at that precise moment in time it wasn't entirely clear to you what you were looking at. And there was the possibility that it was something harmless and innocuous.

WALDRON: Correct. It is not untypical to see military aircraft flying around the area up here, especially fighter jets. Got a large military population in Pierce County with Ft. Lewis-McChord.

So it's not an untypical sight to see aircraft, the F-15s flying around, doing maneuvers and practicing. With the current state of the world, just to protect or homeland. The location they were doing it just seemed very bizarre because it was out of the normal flight path from McChord.


WALDRON: There is another small airport across the water that's out of the frame of the video. I thought -- initially I thought they were going to try to land there. I thought this is just really odd. Of course, everything unfolded that you all see now. So it still just blows my mind. I can't believe what I witnessed.

VANIER: Did you, at any point, entertain the possibility that it was what it turned out to be?

So in other words, a potentially, extremely dangerous situation?

And if so, did you wonder whether there might be a target for anyone flying a plane, wanting to do harm to people on the ground?

WALDRON: You know, I didn't exclude that it could be possibly a terrorist act, especially with the way things are in the world now. But then I kind of blew that off after a few seconds, once I got back to my car, because there would be nothing on Ketron Island to really attack.

Like I said before, you know, it's very sparsely populated out there. A lot of vacation cabins. And I don't know how many. It just wouldn't be a target for anyone to attack for any reason. There is nothing of value out there that would benefit, you know, a terrorist.

VANIER: Sure. Sure. [02:10:00]

WALDRON: Briefly I thought about it and then I just blew it off and chalked it up to just a hotshot pilot, honestly. And then of course, I get home and find out what happened. And I thought, oh, my God. You know, unbelievable.

VANIER: Absolutely, as is your video. Look, John Waldron, thank you for your time today. We'll speak to you again. And your eyewitness account of what happened at that precise moment has been invaluable to help us gain a better understanding of this story and what happened.

John, thank you very much. I wish you well. I also note that you were -- that you are -- you have nerves of steel. You turned around to look at a sunset in the middle of all this. You quite impressed me with that.

WALDRON: I did. I guess there is just -- there's always -- in the world's darkest moment, l learned that there's always a ray of hope and maybe that was why I was drawn back to look at the sunset. I don't know, because just three seconds later, I turned back around and, of course, this tragedy struck.

So that's just how I look at life. Just be positive and be strong because tomorrow is never promised.

VANIER: Absolutely. What you saw could have been extremely dangerous to you and the people in that area as well. You speak very eloquently at that moment. John, thank you. It's been a pleasure having you on. We'll speak to you again.

WALDRON: Thank you, Cyril.

VANIER: All right. We'll go to a short break and we are back with more on this rapidly developing story when we come back.




VANIER: We continue to follow breaking news here at CNN. An aircraft has crashed near Seattle, Washington, after a mechanic stole it --


VANIER: -- from Seattle's main airport. The plane went down on Ketron Island, which is about 40 miles or 65 kilometers southwest of the airport.

The aircraft took off without authorization and without passengers Friday night. The person at the controls of the plane has been identified as a 29-year-old Horizon Air mechanic from Pierce County, Washington, according to officials, who also say they are doing a background on him. It is believed that the mechanic's lack of flying skills, in other

words, he didn't know how to fly this plane well, that's what led to the crash. He knew enough to take off, not enough to land it.

The Pierce County sheriff says this was not a terrorism related incident, this was a suicide flight. Horizon Air has now issued a statement following the crash. Here is Horizon Air chief operating officer, Constance von Muehlen.


CONSTANCE VON MUEHLEN, HORIZON AIR CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Good evening. I'm Constance von Muehlen, Horizon Air chief operating officer. I'm sorry to share with you this evening that at approximately 8 pm, one of our Q400 airplanes made an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac Airport. We believe it was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and that no other passengers or crew were onboard. Shortly thereafter, it crashed on Ketron Island by South Tacoma.

Our hearts are with the families of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees. We will provide more information as it becomes available.


VANIER: All right. CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell joins us now. He is on the phone from Corona Island in California.

Josh, it seems very fortunate; if we believe this story, that indeed the mechanic, this was a suicide flight, the mechanic wanted to kill himself. If this is indeed true, then we are very fortunate the mechanic also didn't have the intention to harm others.

I was just discussing with one of our earlier guests, that Germanwings flight three years ago, where the pilot was depressed. He had mental health issues and he threw everybody on the plane, 150 people total in that plane, into the side of a mountain and killed everybody. This was clearly not the case here.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. You nailed it. We dodged a bullet here.

If you look at this video where you see these acrobatics and the strange maneuvering, this could have been a lot worse. I'd say we dodged a bullet. If you think about what could have tragically transpired in a situation like this. it is very troubling.

As a former FBI investigator, I can tell you there are always two aspects to any worst-case scenario. Whether it is an act of terrorism or whether it's the act of a person that's trying to act out a grievance. It comes down to aspiration and capability.

So is this person aspiring to cause harm, aspiring to cause a mass loss of life?

And do they have the capability to do so?

Do they have access to weapons or access to some type of harmful device that would then allow them to fulfill their aspirations?

Here, it appears he had the capability. He was able to somehow make his way into the cockpit of an aircraft and take off and to get this vehicle airborne. But it doesn't appear -- again, there's a lot we don't know right now -- but it doesn't appear he had the aspiration to actually cause massive loss of life.

So that is the bullet that we dodged right here. It doesn't mean we are out of the woods. And this will be a very lengthy investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board is no doubt on the way right now with one of their go teams, probably locally and then back in Washington, D.C., headed to the site in order to start this investigation. They will be looking to determine how did this happen, how did this person gain this access into the aircraft?

And what systems do we need to look at and protocols in order to ensure that this doesn't happen again?

The last thing that we all have to keep in mind, those in our national security spaces, those in who are in the international community, is that our foreign advisories are looking at incidents like this to determine what are the weak points?

What are the weak links?

If they see that someone who was a mechanic was able to get access to a vehicle that could have been used as a weapon, that will be something that they will try to probe. So this will be an all-hands- on-deck approach from our national security officials, both there on the ground and nationally and locally and, indeed, internationally.

VANIER: Airports have -- there is such a thing as airport police. So here is what I'm wondering.

What means does an airport have to stop a plane that goes rogue?

Once they understand that, whoever is taxiing that plane -- at some point before the plane takes off, they must know it's not a pilot, right, it's a mechanic in that cockpit. They had to know before the plane left.


VANIER: So what means do they have to stop it?

CAMPBELL: -- and there are a number of different layers that are involved in that, when you're looking at securing a (INAUDIBLE), securing people from coming in. A lot of that is looking outward, ensuring that outside threats aren't able to make their way inside to a secure area, inside to an airport, where presumably you expect everyone in that secure space has been screened, either physically or has gone through a lengthy background investigation.


CAMPBELL: If you break it down into employees and passengers, every passenger that comes aboard a commercial aircraft will undergo some type of screening for devices and weapons and that physical screening.

But also employees have to undergo that screening as well. The psychological -- obviously a mechanic would be less so than a pilot, someone who's actually able to pilot an aircraft with souls on board.

But nonetheless they would be involved in a very thorough background investigation. So if you're a Seattle-Tacoma police officer that's there at the airport, you know, it's not necessarily front of mind that you're worried that someone that is authorized to be in the cockpit of an aircraft is then going to go rogue.

If that happens, there is very little you can do. I will say that this case does pose an interesting challenge. And I was talking to someone there on the ground locally in Washington State.

That is, what type of jurisdictional issue are we looking at here?

Obviously, it appears that the person that, you know, was responsible for this is almost certainly deceased in this crash. So it's not like there's a prosecution that's on deck. But it raises serious questions because is this a crimes aboard the aircraft type of statute, which would involve federal authorities?

Is this an issue involving the security of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where, you know, jurisdiction would lie with those individuals who were responsible for securing the plane?

Or is jurisdiction, does that lie with the site of the crash; in this case, Pierce County?

I will say that it has been very interesting for me as someone who wears two hats now, as a former investigator and someone who's now obviously trying to analyze and unpack a lot of these issues, you know, in the press and that is how aggressive the sheriff's department has been in releasing a lot of this information.

It's pretty incredible --


VANIER: What do you make of that?

CAMPBELL: -- questioning what they're releasing right now but it is a lot more aggressive than I would assume the NTSB, federal officials, those who are at the airport and, indeed, the military would like because it has been so quick information out there.

We saw a report earlier where the sheriff's department was saying there was no one on the ground that was impacted by this. I don't know how that is true, how that could be possible in such a short period of time. Again, my question; it may turn out to be that case. But these are these types of instances where it is very much an all-

hands-on-deck. And you want that coordination because, as of right now, I don't think we have an answer to who has jurisdiction over this.

VANIER: Yes, and you raise a chilling point, earlier when you said we dodged a bullet, because clearly this shows there is a loophole that can be exploited. Sure, a lot of things have to align. Sure, this is not something you expect. But that's precisely what the law enforcement, what the screening procedures and the security, the whole security protocol is there to prevent --


CAMPBELL: -- when I was in the FBI, I was one of the case agents on the MH370 aircraft. This was the missing Malaysian aircraft. We had three American citizens who were on board. There was an American nexus so the FBI opened an investigation.

I can tell you there are two aspects of that, where you're looking at both those who were in the cockpit or at anyone who was in the vicinity that is able to manipulate an aircraft. Obviously you'll want to dive into all of those people and their background, their lives, determine who did it.

Then there is also the structural integrity of the aircraft itself. Those are two things that obviously you look at. When it comes down to this person, this is -- again, when we talk about dodging a bullet -- obviously we don't have passengers on board. That would have been a nightmare scenario if this person was able to take off with passengers.

I think investigators will be able to say with great certainty they know who is responsible. Then it gets back to that investigative piece, what was this person's psychology?

How was this person able to do this?

What was in the background that was missed?

That will be something that the law enforcement, airline, security officials will start looking at to determine what are the best practices here that we can then ensure that we look at -- across the map, the other airports, the other airlines to other mechanics.

Is there something specific to this person that we could then compare to a larger profile in order to ensure it doesn't happen again?

VANIER: Josh, stay with me. A couple of things. First of all, I want to pass on this confirmation that we are getting -- not that there was a whole lot of doubt, given the pictures of the crash site -- but that the mechanic was flying the plane has indeed been killed in the crash.

So that, for one, is confirmed.

Two, I want to play what some of the witnesses have been saying.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were watching the sunset. And we like saw all the planes coming over us. And then -- so I was in their hot tub and we were like and we were just hanging out. And then we heard that boom. And yes.


What did you think of that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't know what it was.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thought it was something going on with McChord. That's our first thought. So we were sitting in those lounge chairs, watching the sunset. And then we saw the plane and then the jets going right behind it.

And my first thought was they are doing something at McChord. And I'm like, so late at night, you know, and then we heard a third jet and then we kind of were -- sunset was done. We went up to the house.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were putting everything away down at the pool. And that's when they heard the boom. And I didn't hear that. So then my husband kind of put it all together. He turned it to the news or something. And he is like, that was the plane.


VANIER: All right. We'll take a quick break. You're watching CNN. Our breaking news coverage on this rapidly developing story continues right after this.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

VANIER: An aircraft has crashed near Seattle, Washington, after a mechanic stole it from Seattle's main airport. Let me update you if you're just joining us.

The plane went down on Ketron Island. The moments before it crashed were filmed by somebody we spoke to moments ago, John Waldron. He was just standing out there, looking at the sunset, when he caught this.

At the moment when he was filming this, he didn't know what he was looking at. Turns out we know now that a mechanic stole this plane from the Seattle International Airport and essentially joyrode it and then crashed this plane into Ketron Island. There was, crucially, to understand this story --


VANIER: -- there was nobody on the plane. And we are also told from the Pierce County sheriff department that nobody was harmed on impact other than the person who was flying the plane; in other words, the mechanic. This was not a terror incident. This is not a terror story. This was apparently a suicide flight.

We can now speak to Alan Diehl. He's a former accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and from the Federal Aviation Administration. He joins us on the phone from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Have you ever seen anything like this?

ALAN DIEHL, FORMER ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: No, Cyril. First of all, thanks for having me. This is obviously very unusual. I would caution as to whether or not this was a legitimate suicide. We don't know.

Obviously, when they get the black boxes they will analyze the input and so on. He may just have lost it while trying to do some sort of exhibitionist stunt. There is so much we don't know about this.

A couple of things I would add very quickly that your law enforcement analyst brought up, Josh. On the early warning of these kinds of things, mechanics are authorized to taxi aircrafts. So there would have been very little warning that the controllers would have had at SeaTac.

He could have contacted what's called ground control and just told him that he is going to be taxiing the aircraft and then, of course, he takes the active or could even have taken off from a taxiway with that kind of aircraft.

So what I'm saying is it would be extremely difficult to prevent this and the controls or law enforcement people would not probably have had much time to react to somebody doing this.

VANIER: Is there any way?

I understand it's extremely difficult.

But do they have any means at their disposal, whether it is the control tower or whether there is law enforcement on the runway?

Anything they could use when they see that a plane has gone rogue and is still on the ground?

DIEHL: Like I said, if he was talking to the ground controllers and telling them -- these are people that are the air traffic controllers that handle the taxiing traffic before the aircraft get airborne, he could tell them, look, I'm repositioning the aircraft and I want to go out to such-and-such a taxiway and then take off from there.

So what I'm saying, it would have been very difficult for the controllers to scramble perhaps a crash fire rescue truck. They could have rammed the aircraft with a large vehicle to stop it, if they knew this was going to happen.

But they probably wouldn't have had time to react because he would have been authorized to move that aircraft along the taxiway. And of course he knows how to operate the radios. He knows how to start the engines and so on.

So again, other than things like employee assistance programs, alcohol detection programs, most of these mechanics do have to take periodic alcohol and drug tests. But what I'm saying is, once somebody decides -- a mechanic -- that they are going to take an aircraft, they're sophisticated enough to talk to the ground controllers.

And he could quite quickly get the aircraft out into a position where it could take off. And like I said, I don't think they -- Cyril, I just don't think they would have had much time to react.

Furthermore, another point --


VANIER: If I can just -- before you move onto that other point and we'll get to it, if I could stop you for a second, is that -- would it be fair to say that that is a glaring vulnerability in the system?

Or is that too harsh?

DIEHL: Clearly it is a vulnerability. But you know, they go -- all airlines have screening programs and it clearly -- if you have got -- you can lose your mechanic's license if you have had drug problems or law enforcement problems.


VANIER: Do they screen for mental health?

DIEHL: They don't -- not per se. There are interviews, of course, where they are asking about all kinds of things normally. But this is not regulated by the FAA, the mental health aspect of mechanics. Now pilots, controllers, that's a different story. But the mechanics are not that closely regulated, other than --


VANIER: So essentially, Alan, what you're telling me is that no one foresaw, with all the security planning that goes, especially post 9/11, no one foresaw that something like this could happen, that somebody, a mechanic, pretending to just have to taxi down the runway, to maybe reposition the plane, would then manage to take off and would use that as cover to take off?

Just no one ever thought of that possibility? That's what you're telling me?

Or at least no one acted on it?

DIEHL: Cyril, I think that's certainly a fair characterization. That's not something that --


DIEHL: -- the government has addressed yet. They have increased security for people trying to get into the airport, the fences and so on. They've been beefed up. There are cameras and so on that, post- 9/11, that are much more elaborate than before.

Of course, we have all seen what happens where passengers and even employees trying to get through security at airports. But, no, I think that's a fair characterization, Cyril, that no one has really considered this yet, as far as I know, in the States. There have been other examples of mechanics taking aircrafts in other countries because they had a grievance against the company and crashing them and so on.


VANIER: Sorry, did you say there has been or there haven't been other instances of that?

DIEHL: There have been. And, off the top of my head, I can't name the countries or the airlines of employees taking airlines (sic) and crashing them or wrecking them primarily because they had a grievance against the company. OK.

There's no indication that this is the case there at SeaTac. As a matter of fact, you know, at this point, like I said earlier, I'm not -- I'm an aviation psychologist, I'm not a therapist. But I'm not even sure this was an intentional suicide. That's why they will have to get the black boxes and look at the control inputs to try to assess whether or not he intentionally flew the aircraft into the woods, I guess, is where it impacted. So --


VANIER: Tell me why you doubt that. Because somebody who takes off on an empty plane and who is not a pilot and who must have some idea that he may not be able to land is somebody who doesn't intend to live.

DIEHL: Well, clearly, he was doing some aerobatic type maneuvers. And we don't know what his flying background -- many mechanics also have pilot's license. So he may have had some experience in aerobatics or flying.

But you know, it looked to me like, just from the videos that we are showing, that this was a -- he was putting on an exhibition. It looks to me like somebody that was -- couldn't wait to die, so to speak, took the aircraft off and just flew it straight into the ground or -- of course, there was no one else aboard, unlike the Germanwings situation, where that co-pilot, who had a long history of mental problems.

But it was unreported to his employers and Germanwings, we -- here we don't know. It looked to me like it was some sort of exhibition. He may well have intended to die. We don't know that. Clearly, the investigation is just beginning.

And certainly the behavioral scientists at FBI and other places in the local law enforcement community will be looking at his background.

Did he have family problems, unreported drug problems?

Clearly, if he had a drug problem, the company would have removed him and the FAA would have removed his license, his mechanic's license.

VANIER: Right. But you are allowing for the possibility that perhaps this is somebody who wanted to impress himself and maybe others and perhaps expected to land the plane again.

And that is certainly worth bringing up and reminding our viewers, even though we have been told -- go ahead.

DIEHL: Cyril, I'm just saying we can't discount that quite yet, even though it appears to be a suicide. Sheriff said it's apparent suicide. So they may know something that they haven't released quite yet. But right now, it could have been just some sort of exhibitionist acting out, knowing full well that he's going to lose his license, his mechanic's license and probably go to jail for a long time.

But maybe he's got a family problem or a unreported alcohol or even a behavioral problem that we just didn't know about. Obviously, the CEO of the company was on and I'm sure that they do have screening procedures.

But clearly this guy got through the procedures.

Alan, I have more questions for you. I'll talk to you on the back of this break. Thank you.

OK, Cyril, thank you.





VANIER: An aircraft just crashed near Seattle, Washington, after a mechanic stole it from Seattle's main airport. The plane went down on Ketron Island which is about 40 miles or 65 kilometers southwest of the airport. The aircraft took off without authorization and without passengers,

thankfully, Friday night. The person at the controls of the plane has only been identified so far as a 29-year-old Horizon Air mechanic from Pierce County, Washington, that's according to officials.

It is believed that the mechanic's lack of flying skills led to the crash. He is confirmed to have died in the crash. The Pierce County sheriff says this was not a terrorism related incident.

Earlier, Horizon Air's chief operating officer issued a statement about the crash.


CONSTANCE VON MUEHLEN, HORIZON AIR CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Good evening. I'm Constance von Muehlen, Horizon Air chief operating officer. I'm sorry to share with you this evening that at approximately 8 pm, one of our Q400 airplanes made an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac Airport. We believe it was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and that no other passengers or crew were onboard. Shortly thereafter, it crashed on Ketron Island by South Tacoma.

Our hearts are with the families of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees. We will provide more information as it becomes available. Eyewitnesses are speaking out as well. Listen here as a family recalls exactly what they saw and heard.


VANIER: Let's bring in Mary Schiavo, CNN's aviation analyst. She joins us by phone from Charleston, South Carolina.

Mary, we have been following this together for over an hour now.

Tell me, with everything we know now, what leaps out at you first?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it was one thing -- I'm watching the footage of this mechanic flying. And when you first start (INAUDIBLE) when you first start students --


SCHIAVO: -- out flying, one of the hardest things for them to do is do a coordinated turn, meaning that when you turn the plane -- obviously it's not like turning a vehicle. (INAUDIBLE) rudder and ailerons and the plane turns (INAUDIBLE) -- it's a very graceful turn. And he did a coordinated turn.

(INAUDIBLE) could he have done it by accident?

Sure. But I don't think so. (INAUDIBLE) this person had some flying training, some flying ability, obviously he knew the plane extremely well as a mechanic. You know the flap levers, how to put the gear levers, how to put the gear up and all of that. But when I saw the one turn -- and knowing what students look like

when they first start flying and how hard it is to get used to the coordinated turn, I thought he had flying, had had some flying lessons.

VANIER: OK. So to be clear and in layman's terms for somebody who doesn't know planes as well as you do, you're saying that tells you it is unlikely to be somebody who just got lucky, right?

SCHIAVO: That's what I think, yes. I think it's unlikely they got lucky because what people do when they haven't had flight training, when they go to turn the plane, they turn the yoke, meaning, you know, they turn, the layman's version, the steering wheel, if you will.

But you also have to use the foot pedals. You have to turn the rudder. You coordinate that turn.

And the reason is, of course, they're (INAUDIBLE) centrifugal force, the forces on the plane aren't like on a car. And that's a very common mistake, first time out of the box, when students start flying. That's one of the first things they have to get used to.

And the one turn that we could see clearly on the video that that gentleman shot, it was a coordinated turn. It is hard to get lucky on that. I don't know. I think he had some training.

VANIER: Mary, we have got more information. I want your analysis on this. We now have some of the radio transmissions from the control tower at the airport and apparently the plane. Again, what you're about to hear, we believe, we know is a conversation between the control tower and the plane. Listen to this.


CAPTAIN BILL, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: All right, Rich, this is Captain Bill. Congratulations, you did that. Now let's try to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody on the ground.

RICH, PILOT: All right. Damn it, I don't know, man, I don't know. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know.


VANIER: Mary, first of all, you heard all of that, right?

SCHIAVO: I heard that.

VANIER: OK. So the control tower, first of all, cool, calm and collected, very calm, that tone of voice, as they are speaking to the captain. They are certainly not berating him, they're not threatening him, at least not in that 16-second clip we just got and played you.

They're just trying to sway him and say, OK, let's land this. Let's do this safely. And what we heard was somebody that appears to be just enjoying the thrill of this. SCHIAVO: Right. Just the thrill of it and obviously very -- not obviously. It sounded to me like he was proud of himself that he was able to do a loop, which is an air show maneuver.

And by the way, aerobatic planes that do that -- we had some that when I was a professor at my university where I taught. Those are planes especially made to do those kinds of maneuvers. This plane, a Q400, is a remake of something called the Dash 8. They first started making them like 30 years ago.

It is not built to do this. So for this person to do literally this maneuver, a loop, you know, in layman's terms, a loop-de-loop, he sounded proud that he had done it. So he must have been exposed to it. And he knew that he had done something pretty difficult. That's what it sounds like to me.

I thought the tower did a good job in trying to talk him down.

VANIER: We also don't know at what point exactly during the flight that conversation took place. I want to play it again for you. Please, this time, listen to the end of it, to what the mechanic answers. Listen to this.


CAPTAIN BILL, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: All right, Rich, this is Captain Bill. Congratulations, you did that. Now let's try to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody on the ground.

RICH, PILOT: All right. Damn it, I don't know, man, I don't know. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know.


VANIER: So you heard it like me, the words at the end of that audio recording. "I was hoping this was going to be it."

SCHIAVO: That's right. But he didn't say I don't know --


SCHIAVO: -- how to land. He didn't say I can't land.


SCHIAVO: He didn't say I'm not capable. Sorry, this is it. I can't land it. He said he was hoping that was it. It sounds like someone who didn't know he was going to be able to do the loop but clearly had flying abilities.

I would think if you had no way of knowing how to land, you might have said, nope, sorry, can't do that because he didn't sound hostile to the air traffic controller. He didn't sound like he was going to come around and take out the tower. I just think it sounds like somebody who knew enough to know that that

was a pretty cool trick, that he just did, didn't know that he could make it. And he probably knew the plane was not an aerobatic plane. You know, aerobatic planes are things like Citabrias, Pitts Specials, special planes, the U.S. aerobatic team makes -- uses very special planes. Some are made in Germany. This is not that.

VANIER: All right. Mary, thank you so much for your expertise. It is great to have you with us, even as we get that audio. I think there is more that we can try and parse in those words. We'll do that after this break. Stay with us.





VANIER: Incredible and scary story coming out of the Seattle, Washington, area after a mechanic stole it from Seattle's main airport. The plane went down on Ketron Island, which is about 40 miles or 65 kilometers southwest of the airport. You see it on your map.

The aircraft took off without authorization and without passengers, thankfully. That was Friday night.

The person at the controls of the plane has been identified as a 29- year-old Horizon Air mechanic from Pierce County, Washington. That's what we know about him so far. He is confirmed to have died in the crash. We're told authorities are working background on him.

The Pierce County sheriff says that this was not a terrorism related incident. In fact, the sheriff characterized this as a suicide flight or suicide event.

Now this picture was captured by John Waldron, who was near the coastline not far from Seattle. He saw this appear in the sky, shortly followed by two F-15 warplanes. We now know that the F-15s were scrambled from Portland, Oregon.

And their job was to divert the plane away from the population centers, which they did successfully. The plane then crashed on Ketron Island and we are told there was nobody on the ground who was hurt, either.

That is where things stand at this hour but as things progress, we will continue to flesh out and finesse this story. Stay with us. We have got more for you at the top of the hour.