Plane crashes after 'unauthorized take-off' from SeaTac airport, officials say

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A passenger plane crashed on an island in Puget Sound on Friday night, not long after a suspect conducted an "unauthorized take-off" from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state, officials said.

Witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke in the air above Ketron Island.

The unauthorized pilot was a 29-year-old "suicidal male," the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.

"I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess," the suspect said in audio grabbed from an air traffic control scanner and cited by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In another instance, the suspect joked whether the airline would hire him as a pilot if he landed the plane safely. 

The man, who was addressed as "Rich" in audio recordings with air traffic controllers, said he didn’t want to land at a nearby military base.

He told them, "Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there."

The crash of the Horizon Air Q400 — described as a 76-seat aircraft designed for short trips — occurred because the pilot was "doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills," the sheriff’s department said.

Horizon is a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines.

Airport officials confirmed via social media that no passengers were aboard the plane. They also said that operations at the airport had resumed after being temporarily halted.

Some unconfirmed reports on social media said the suspect was believed to have been an airline mechanic.

Around 9:15 p.m. PDT, Alaska Airlines tweeted: "We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more."

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a message soon after the take-off:

"We can’t confirm anything at this time. We’re trying to get accurate information about what is actually going on. Without confirming anything, a stolen aircraft would be a security issue.

"The FAA is not a security agency, although we work closely with other government agencies on security issues."

Authorities reportedly tried to intercept the plane with an F-15 aircraft. 

The U.S. Coast Guard planned to send a 45-foot vessel to the crash scene after witnesses reported seeing a large plume of smoke in the air, Petty Officer Ali Flockerzi said.

Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group. According to Alaska Airlines, the Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats, designed for flying shorter distances at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet. 

Air travelers and residents able to see the plane in flight were quick to post messages on social media.

“Apparently someone stole a plane from SeaTac?” wrote one Twitter user. “Saw two fighter jets fly overhead then smoke.”

“Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times,” wrote another user.

Fire officials responded to the scene of the crash, which started a few fires in the area, Seattle P-I reported.

Multiple flights remained on the SeaTac tarmac after service was halted while authorities worked to address the situation. Other flights from San Francisco, Honolulu, and Los Angeles were diverted to Portland, Ore., the website reported.

“Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees,” said Alaska’s Chief Operation Officer Constance von Muehlen in a recorded video statement. “We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bradford Betz is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @bradford_betz.

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