After threatening to crash a stolen plane into Walmart, the pilot was caught.
A US airport worker who knew how to take off but not land stole a small plane on Saturday and threatened to crash it into a Walmart. He flew around Mississippi for five hours, scaring people, before landing safely in a soybean field and being caught by police.
Cory Wayne Patterson, who is 29 years old, was not hurt in the crash. He had just posted a goodbye message to his parents and sister on Facebook before the crash. The message said that he "never meant to hurt anyone."
Tupelo's mayor, Todd Jordan, called the solution "the best-case scenario" after a tense morning of watching the plane's path zigzag over the city.
Not one person was hurt.
Police Chief John Quaka said that Patterson worked at the Tupelo Regional Airport to fuel planes, which gave him access to the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air C90A.
It wasn't clear right away why the 10-year Tupelo Aviation employee took off in the fully fueled plane just after 5 a.m. Quaka said that 15 minutes later, Patterson called a 911 operator in Lee County and said he was going to crash the plane into a Walmart in Tupelo. People were told to leave the Walmart and a nearby convenience store by police.
"This is more likely a crime of opportunity," Quaka said, adding that the airport tower is not staffed until 6 a.m.
During the flight, police negotiators were able to talk to Patterson and get him to land, but he didn't know how. He was told by a private pilot to try to land at the Tupelo airport, but at the last minute, he changed his mind and kept flying, according to authorities.
Around 10 a.m., a negotiator got in touch again and found out that Patterson had landed in a field and was fine, Quaka said. The plane landed near Ripley, Mississippi, about 140 kilometers southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, and about 70 kilometers northwest of Tupelo.
"There is damage, but the plane is still together," the chief told reporters.
Patterson was charged with grand theft and making terroristic threats. His Facebook page said he was from Shannon. Quaka said that charges could also be brought by the federal government. Police said they don't think Patterson is a licensed pilot, but he has had some flight lessons.
Jordan said that Patterson talked to his family while they were in the air. The mayor said that he hopes Patterson "will get the help he needs."
"Sorry to all of you. Never really wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and my sister, and this isn't because of you. "Goodbye," said Patterson's post on Facebook, which was made around 9:30 a.m.
Peter Goelz, who used to be the managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that security experts have been worried for years about the security of small airports that serve small planes and corporate jets.
He said, "If you have a trained pilot who can get into a business jet and take it, you have a pretty deadly weapon."
Roxanne Ward, who lives in Ripley, told The Associated Press that she had been following the plane online and had gone to her father-in-house law's to hide in the basement. She said that she heard the plane hit the ground on the property of her father-in-law.
She and some other people rode over on four-wheelers.
Ward, who was watching from a distance, said, "As soon as it crashed, the police were there and ready."
"Police got him to come out. They yelled at him, "Put your arms up!" She said that the pilot got out of the plane and didn't fight with the police.
Michael Canders, who runs the Aviation Center at New York's Farmingdale State College, called the accident a "wake-up call" for general aviation airports and their staff.
Canders said that the Transportation Security Administration requires training every year that emphasizes the "see something, say something" approach. This is to try to prevent what police think happened in Tupelo, where an employee had access to planes.
"This exact thing is talked about in the course, how someone who wants to do harm could get in," he said. "It's up to everyone who works at an airport. If you see someone you don't know or do something strange, you should tell someone."
Early on Saturday, a service that tracks flights online showed the plane's wavy path through the sky.
Leslie Criss is a magazine editor who lives in Tupelo. She got up early and watched the news and social media to find out what was going on. Several of her friends were outside, looking up at the plane as it flew back and forth.
Criss told AP, "I've never seen anything like this in this town."
"It's a scary way to wake up on a Saturday."
Goelz said that the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security would probably look into the incident and give advice on how to tighten security, which could be expensive.
"It's expensive for an airport like Tupelo to beef up security at 5 a.m. on Saturday when their tower doesn't open until 6," Goelz said.
"They won't have the money unless the government gives it to them."
Tens of thousands of college football fans were heading to north Mississippi for Saturday games at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi State University in Starkville. This is when the plane drama happened. Between these two cities is Tupelo.
Jane and Daniel Alsup stood in their front yard near where the plane landed and watched it fly low over the pine and oak trees.
"He went away for a while, and then we heard him return. "A few seconds later, we heard a big "flump" and saw him land in the soybean field," said Jane Alsup.
Daniel Alsup said that the plane landed on the other side of some trees, so they didn't see it hit the ground.
He said of the landing site in the country, "This was the best place it could have happened."