The day after a Horizon Air employee stole an airplane, flew aerial stunts and crashed into a sparsely inhabited island in Puget Sound, airline executives acknowledged that more will have to be done about insider air security.
Early reports indicated the suspect was speaking to air traffic controllers.
"This is not a terrorist incident", a sheriff's office representative said.
He said the man who took the plane appeared to have died. He described him as a white male, age 29, who may have mental health problems.
The plane crashed on Ketron Island, off the shore of Steilacoom, killing the pilot - the only person on board.
The freakish incident involving a worker who authorities said was suicidal points to one of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel: airline or airport employees causing mayhem.
Normal operations at the airport were interrupted briefly, the airport said.
Constance von Muehlen, chief operating officer of Horizon Air, a sister carrier of Alaska Airlines, said that at about 8pm an employee of the airline undertook an unauthorised take-off of a Q400 twin-engine turboprop airplane. Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. "It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this.Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess".
He added: "I'm sorry about this, I hope it doesn't ruin your day [.]". Jimmy Thomson, deputy editor of Canadian investigative news outlet The Narwhal, has compiled and transcribed portions of the air-traffic recording of the incident, and they provide a haunting glimpse into the moments before the plane crash. It can carry 76 passengers and has boarding doors in both the front and rear of the plane.
Witnesses on the ground also said the plane was being followed by military aircraft before it crashed.
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"I've got a lot of people that care about me", the man later said.
NBC reported that the man expressed distress about his mental health while communicating with the air traffic control tower.
They believe there were no passengers on board and no structures hit when the plane crashed into Ketron Island on Friday night.
He then said: "I wouldn't know how to land - I wasn't really planning on landing it".
The working commercial pilot said if the weather is clear, as it was Friday, instrument knowledge isn't as crucial to flying as it is at night or in poor weather.
Southers says that if the man knew how to do loops he likely had the skills to target people on the ground.
He estimated that the plane at its lowest point was no more than 100 feet (30.5 meters) above the water.
Alaska Air said the F-15s were scrambled from a Portland air base.
No records for a pilot license for the man thought to have stolen the plane could be found on the Federal Aviation Administration website. I don't know! I don't want to.
"The setup in aviation in America is we secure the airfield and then we have the mindset that we have employees that are credentialed and authorised to be there", Tilden said, adding that the airline was working with authorities to investigate.