An airline employee who stole an empty passenger plane from Seattle airport has crashed on a nearby island.
Authorities said the man had made ‘an unauthorised take-off’ late on Friday local time, forcing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close.
Two F15 fighter jets pursued the plane, which crashed in Puget Sound. The man is not believed to have survived.
The local sheriff’s office said it was ‘not a terrorist incident’, saying that the man was local and aged 29.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor later told reporters it appeared to be a joyride gone terribly wrong…”most terrorists don’t do loops over the water,” according to ABC7 News.
Eyewitness John Waldron told CNN he watched the plane do “a complete loop”, before it went “pretty much straight up and kind of at an angle which almost stalled the aircraft.”
“Somehow he got it levelled back off…. And then made his way down toward the island,” he told the broadcaster.
At one point, he estimated, the plane was no more than 100ft (30.5m) above the water.
A recording being shared online reveals air traffic controllers tried to encourage the man to land before the plane crashed in the south of Ketron Island, near a military facility.
The Seattle Times describes the man as sounding ‘carefree and wild,’ while a number of videos on social media show the aircraft – a twin engine turboprop Q400 belonging to Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier Horizon Air – flying over the area in an erratic manner.
In the audio recording, the man can be heard starting to worry about how much fuel he had on board. He also suggests he could land the aircraft by himself because he had played “some video games”.
The man, who is referred to by what is believed to be his first name, also discusses:
Leah Morse, who filmed the jet flying overhead, told news agency Reuters she felt in her “gut something was wrong” after spotting the plane.
Ms Morse’s mother, who lives closer to the area where the plane went down, said her whole house shook.
“We saw the jets circle back after and she texted that there was no plane,” she added.
Sheriff Pastor told KIRO7 news station in Seattle the man had most likely been killed in the crash.
Ben Schaechter was on a plane which was apparently taxiing down the runway as the stolen plane took off.
“Okay this insane,” he tweeted. “A pilot on the plane in front of us just went rogue and took off on an empty plane bypassing orders from the tower. The tower ordered a full stop and they’re trying to communicate with that pilot. Whaaaaaat!”
Passengers collecting their luggage at the airport appeared to be unclear about what exactly had taken place.