SEATTLE - (Update: Airline says man was ground service agent, not mechanic; quotes from conversations with air traffic controllers)
Horizon Air, Sea-Tac International Airport and Pierce County, Wash., officials say a Horizon Air employee stole a Q400 turboprop plane with no passengers aboard Friday night and it later crashed on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound.
Alaska Airlines confirmed that a Horizon Air Q400 was involved in an “unauthorized take-off” in a tweet.
“We believe there are no passengers on board,” the tweet said.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane being chased by military aircraft near the airport.
The Coast Guard reported it was responding to a report of a large smoke plume and possible crash. Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said a 45-foot vessel was headed to the scene.
The plane crashed into Ketron Island, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's office.
The plane "was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island," the department tweeted. CNN aired viewer video of the plane upside down and doing a roll to right itself.
Pierce County later confirmed on its Twitter feed that a mechanic stole the plane who was a 29-year-old "suicidal" man and that no one else was involved. Two military F-15 jets scrambled out of Portland and "chased plane but (were) not involved in crash." They also said the "pilots kept plane out of harm's way and people on ground safe."
The sheriff's department said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the man, whose name was not immediately released.
Airline officials say the man is believed to be a ground service agent. Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was an employee who helps direct aircraft to gates and de-ice planes.
Officials say the "suicidal" airline employee stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off from Sea-Tac Friday night before crashing into a small island.
Authorities say there is no connection to terrorism and they do not believe anyone else was on the plane.
The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he was a "broken guy" but also joked about whether the airline would hire him as a pilot if he landed safely.
The man, who was addressed as "Rich" in audio recordings with air traffic controllers, said he didn't want to land at a nearby military base.
He told them, "Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there."
During another part of the exchange, the man said he was concerned he was going to run low on fuel.
Later, he said he's "got a lot of people that care about me."
He said he didn't want to disappoint them but that he was "just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess."
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the West.
The Q400 ix a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.
At Sea-Tac, KING-TV reported passengers described 1- to 2-hour flight delays, with very limited information about what was going on. There were long lines at the baggage claim late Friday night.