Authorities believe the man who stole a twin-engine plane from a Mississippi airport committed a crime of opportunity, not terrorism.
Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka told reporters that Tupelo Aviation employee Cory Patterson, 29, likely engaged in a “crime of opportunity: rather than a security threat. Patterson piloted a fueled Beechcraft King Air C90 twin-engine airplane without permission from Tupelo Aviation Unlimited. He had worked 10 years as a lineman, fueling airplanes for the Tupelo Regional Airport fixed-base operator before his scary Saturday sojourn.
Police say Patterson was wheels up at approximately 5:08 a.m. Saturday.
Shortly afterwards, the pilot contacted 911 and threatened to intentionally crash into the Walmart on Tupelo’s West Main Street, according to a Daily Journal report. Negotiators convinced Patterson not to go through with his threat and to return the plane to the Tupelo airport. Patterson reportedly did but was unsure how to land the plane, so a private pilot tried to talk Patterson through the landing process. Patterson aborted the landing during his final approach and traveled in a northwest direction away from Tupelo, according to the Daily Journal report.
“I thought my guys were messing with me, especially after they said the name,” said the airport’s Executive Director Joseph Wheeler. The report noted Wheeler said he knew Patterson and spoke with him frequently during the approximately 4 1/2 hour incident.
“I would think I would do it before he did,” Wheeler added. “[Patterson] seemed like a straight-laced guy and a hard worker.”
Wheeler also said Patterson, though not trained in landing an aircraft, pulled off a “textbook” field landing. The plane was damaged but intact, according to law officials.
Tippah County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Josh Bateman said Patterson was charged by Tupelo authorities with grand larceny and making terrorist threats.
“Sorry everyone,” Patterson reportedly posted on his Facebook page Saturday morning, “Never actually wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye.”
After being held in the Tippah County Jail for a short time, Tupelo police transported Patterson back to Lee County.
“We do anticipate that the federal government will proceed with federal charges in the very near future,” Quaka said.
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