Pilot in custody after threatening to crash small airplane into Mississippi Walmart
A man who threatened to crash a small airplane into a Walmart in Tupelo, Miss., has been arrested and taken into custody Saturday, officials confirmed.
Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said the pilot, identified as Cory Patterson, stole the plane and took off from the Tupelo Regional Airport at 5:08 a.m. CT. He said Patterson is being charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats.
He said authorities believe Patterson has some flight instruction but is not a licensed pilot.
Quaka said Patterson has been an employee of Tupelo Aviation, which operates the airport, for 10 years. The chief said Patterson is a lineman, meaning he fuels the aircraft.
Quaka said Patterson called 911 for Lee County, the county where Tupelo is located, at 5:23 a.m. local time to tell them he planned to crash the airplane into a Walmart on West Main Street in Tupelo.
The chief said the police and fire departments evacuated people from the Walmart and surrounding areas, and “numerous” major streets were shut down.
Quaka said negotiators from the police department were able to convince Patterson to not crash into the Walmart and land back at Tupelo airport. He said a private pilot assisted in helping Patterson land, but Patterson aborted the landing at the last minute and flew toward more northern counties in the state.
Quaka said officials contacted those counties and sheriffs there to notify them of the situation.
He said the pilot made a post on Facebook around 9:30 local time that “in essence said goodbye.”
Quaka said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lost radar contact with the plane at 10:08 a.m., and police negotiators confirmed with Patterson four minutes later that he landed in a field between Ashland and Ripley, Miss., and was uninjured.
Patterson was arrested soon after. Quaka said officials expect the federal government will also proceed with charges against Patterson soon.
Connie Strickland, a dispatcher for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, told The Hill that the pilot was taken to the jail in Tippah County, which is where he landed.
Quaka said at the press conference that Patterson is en route to Tupelo to face the charges against him. He said determining Patterson’s motive will take time, but authorities will examine “every angle” there is.
Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan (R) said Patterson’s family was at the police department while he was flying the plane and were in communication with him. Jordan said they were “very thankful” that no harm happened to him.
He said the result was the base scenario.
The FAA said in a statement that it is coordinating with local law enforcement and will investigate. It identified the plane as a Beechcraft King Air 90, a two-engine utility aircraft.
The agency confirmed the pilot was the only one on board.
The Tupelo Police Department said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the pilot contacted E911, an enhanced 911 system that shows a caller’s location to dispatchers, when he threatened to crash into the Walmart.
The department asked civilians to avoid the area until an “all clear” was given. It said in the post that the area in danger was much larger than just Tupelo given the mobility of the airplane.
A video reportedly of the plane circulated on Twitter, appearing to show it flying relatively low to the ground.
Updated at 1:54 p.m.