A ground services employee in Tupelo, MS stole a plane and made a terroristic threat. Unlike a similar situation with a Horizon Air crash in 2018, this incident ended safely.
Ground Employee Stole Plane
Cory Wayne Patterson, a 29-year-old Tupelo Aviation ground worker stole a Beechcraft King Air C90A, a twin-prop aircraft around 5 AM from the Mississippi airport. Patterson was familiar enough with the operations of the aircraft (from some private pilot lessons) to take off but was not knowledgeable enough to land. Air traffic control does not start until 6 AM at the airport.
The troubled employee had left in the fully-fueled aircraft and called 911 inflight, declaring that he intended to strike a Wal-Mart in the area. He later published to Facebook:
“Sorry everyone. Never wanted to actually hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye,” read Patterson’s Facebook message posted at about 9:30 a.m. – Associated Press
All Well That Ends Well
The plane finally landed after more than five hours aloft in a soybean field. No one was harmed, though the community was alarmed and law enforcement on edge during the morning fiasco on Friday. The aircraft was intact, though damaged.
Patterson was arrested and will face charges for grand larceny, making terroristic threats, and could face federal charges. However, Tupelo Mayor, Todd Jordan, discussed getting Patterson the help he needs suggesting a focus on mental health treatment was the priority.
Reminiscent of Horizon Airlines Theft
In 2018, Richard Russell, a 28-year old ground worker at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport stole a Horizon Airlines (Alaska Airlines subsidiary) Q400 on a suicide mission following a joy flight around Puget Sound. The two held a similar position with similar access to aircraft. Both Patterson and Russell used prop aircraft (though Patterson’s was not an airliner), flew around and communicated while doing so.
This second incident underscores the security concerns associated with those that have some knowledge of how to fly and access to equipment. It also raises the question of how well screened for mental health concerns airline staff members might be.
It’s a relief that Patterson wasn’t able to inflict the damage he had initially aimed to achieve. That said, this incident and the Horizon Airlines incident from 2018 have a few similarities that highlight the real concern for those with access to aircraft and the ability (even if limited) to fly enough to cause damage should they wish to do so.
What do you think? How concerned are you about this incident? Do you think there is a broader problem in security/mental health that needs to be addressed by airports?