(CBS4) – People in Seattle got a surprise Friday evening when a 29-year-old man stole an empty plane and took it for a joyride over the city. The man was followed closely by two F-15 jets and seemed to do tricks in the air. Police said he appeared to be suicidal.
Audio captured of the man as he talked to air traffic control seems to back that theory up. The man says, “I’m just a broken guy got a few screws loose.”
The man was an airline employee.
Colorado aviation expert Steve Cowell says it’s not unusual for someone who works in the airport operations area to have access to a plane in order to do their jobs. For that reason, airlines are very careful about who they hire for those positions.
“You need to undergo a 10 year background check, which includes everything from a criminal history all the way through employment,” Cowell said.
Cowell says that learning the basics of flying an aircraft like the one taken in Seattle isn’t as hard as you may think. There are tutorials online for pilots, but you should leave the flying to the pros.
“Anybody can fly an airplane in nice blue sky weather,” said Cowell. “That’s not why you go through the training that you do (as a pilot). You go through the training that you do to acquire the judgement. To acquire the skills necessary in case something does go wrong.”
The man who stole the plane in Seattle ended up crashing on an island in Puget Sound. He is presumed dead, but no one else was injured.
Cowell says that balancing airport security with the ability of airlines to operate smoothly is a tall order, but events like this help aviation experts like him figure out how to keep everyone safe.
“What I believe will happen now is there will be a re-examination by every airport and every airline of their policies and procedures when they have an airplane parked at the gate as well as parked at a hangar area for maintenance. Because not only do we have the external threat to worry about, but now we have internal threats,” he said.