The pilot who stole a plane and threatened to intentionally crash into a Walmart supermarket in Tupelo, Mississippi while flying around the state for five hours will be charged with aggravated theft and terrorist threats, authorities said.
Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, an airport worker who reportedly knew how to take off but not land, could also face federal charges, said Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka.
The drama began shortly after 5am on Saturday when Patterson stole the Beechcraft King Air 90 plane. At 9:30 he posted a farewell message on Facebook. “Sorry everyone. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and my sister, it’s not your fault. Goodbye, “wrote Patterson.
This marked the beginning of an erratic flight. Fifteen minutes later, Patterson called emergency health services, warning he was planning to crash into a Tupelo Walmart. The agents evacuated people from Walmart and a nearby convenience store.
As the plane flew over Tupelo, the city police department issued a statement claiming that it was “warned that an airplane pilot (possibly of the King Air type) was flying over Tupelo, a city in northeastern Mississippi. . The pilot has made contact with the E911 and is threatening to intentionally crash into Walmart on West Main.
The pilot later headed north before landing in the field near Ripley, Mississippi, about 45 miles northwest of Tupelo. After Patterson’s arrest, Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan called the resolution “the best case scenario”. The mayor said he hopes Patterson “gets the help he needs.”
“Grateful that the situation was resolved and that no one was hurt,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted. “Thanks above all to the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who have handled this situation with extreme professionalism.”
According to police chief Quaka, Patterson was employed to refuel aircraft at Tupelo Regional Airport, giving him access to the twin-engine plane. “This is more likely a crime of opportunity,” Quaka said, noting that the airport tower isn’t open until 6am.
Quaka added that authorities had not identified Patterson’s motive for his actions. “It will take some time to determine. We will examine the motivation. We will pursue any angle and path there is, “he said.
During the flight, police negotiators got in touch to convince Patterson to land, but he didn’t know how. He was then guided by a private pilot to nearly land at Tupelo Airport.
But the attempt was aborted and Patterson resumed the tortuous flight. A negotiator re-established contact hours later, at 10:00, to learn that Patterson had put the plane into a soybean field and was unharmed.
“There is damage, but believe it or not, the plane is intact,” Quaka told reporters at a press conference. Police said Patterson is believed not to be a licensed pilot, but he has some flight instructions.
Roxanne Ward, a Ripley resident, told The Associated Press she was tracking the plane online and went to her father-in-law’s home with the intention of going to the basement for safety.
The plane landed on his father-in-law’s property with a thud. “As soon as he crashed, the police were there and waiting,” Ward said. “The police convinced him to leave. They yelled at him ‘Arms in the air’ ”. He said the pilot got off the plane without resisting the police.
Peter Goelz, former CEO of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the theft of the plane showed the vulnerability of small airports.
“If you have a trained pilot who can go in and take a business jet, you have a pretty lethal weapon there,” he said.
Goelz said the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security are likely to look into the incident and publish guidance focused on strengthening security, a potentially costly prospect.
“For an airport like Tupelo, for them to increase security for Saturday morning at 5am, when their tower doesn’t open until 6am, it’s expensive,” Goelz said. “They won’t have the funds unless the feds provide them.”