(RNN) – An airline employee stole a passenger plane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport near Seattle, WA, and crashed it into a nearby island Friday night.
Alaska Airlines confirmed there was an unauthorized takeoff of a Horizon Air Q400, and that there were no passengers or crew aboard.
A lone airline employee conducted the takeoff, according to airport officials.
The airport also confirmed the plane wasn't carrying passengers.
Constance von Muehlen, the chief operating officer of Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, posted a video statement on the incident late Friday, saying that the airline believes the plane "was taken by a single Horizon Air employee, and that no other passengers or crew were on board.
"Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard, as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees," she said.
Early reports indicated the man was employed as an airline mechanic, though Alaska Airlines later said on its blog that he was likely a "ground service agent employed by Horizon Air."
The takeoff happened around 8 p.m. local time.
Law enforcement officials said the plane crashed on Ketron Island, near Tacoma, WA, KIRO reported.
Ketron Island is a privately owned, 221-acre island with a population of 17 people, according to KIRO.
Alaska Airlines confirmed the plane crashed "in a wooded area on Ketron Island" and said that "no ground structures were involved at the crash site."
The Pierce County Sheriff's Office reported the airline employee who stole the plane was a suicidal 29-year-old man from Pierce County, WA.
"This is not a terrorist incident," a sheriff's office representative said.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the pilot was pronounced dead after the crash.
The sheriff's office confirmed that F-15 fighter jets had been scrambled to keep the plane out of harm's way and people on the ground safe.
Told F 15s made it within a few minutes of theft of plane. Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe. Yay air force . They may not admit for a few days. But is true..— Pierce Co Sheriff (@PierceSheriff) August 11, 2018
The F-15 jets chased after the plane, but weren't involved in the crash, the sheriff's office said.
Instead, the sheriff's office said the cause of the crash could have been either the pilot's inexperience, or his decision to perform mid-air stunts.
Stolen horizon airplane crashed into Ketron island. Preliminary info is that a mechanic from unknown airlines stole plane. Was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island— Pierce Co Sheriff (@PierceSheriff) August 11, 2018
Witnesses on the ground also said the plane was being followed by military aircraft before it crashed.
Air traffic controllers tried to help the pilot safely land the stolen plane. In audio obtained from that conversation, the man - referred to as "Rich" in the transmission - is heard saying: "I've got a lot of people that care about me. It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this."
He said he'd "like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now."
He joked that he didn't need help landing the plane, because he'd "played some video games before."
He also wondered aloud whether Alaska Airlines would give him a job piloting if he could pull off a landing.
He told officials he'd hoped for a "moment of serenity," and even asked them if the plane could do a back flip.
When an official encouraged him to attempt a landing, he said: "I don't know. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was gonna be it."
Sea-Tac operations have resumed as normal, airport officials said; flights had been grounded during the incident.
An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed.— Sea-Tac Airport (@SeaTacAirport) August 11, 2018
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement, thanking the Air National Guard from Washington and Oregon for their quick response, and saying, "There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident of a stolen Horizon Airline plane from Sea-Tac Airport."
The FBI has taken over the investigation into the crash, according to KIRO.
According to the FBI's Seattle field office, information gathered so far doesn't indicate a terrorist threat or "additional, pending criminal activity."
Although response efforts to tonight's aircraft incident and the investigation are still ongoing, information gathered thus far does NOT suggest a terrorist threat or additional, pending criminal activity.— FBI Seattle (@FBISeattle) August 11, 2018
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