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Pilot lands plane after threatening to crash into Mississippi Walmart – report

The pilot who stole a plane and threatened to intentionally crash into a Walmart superstore in Tupelo, Mississippi, while flying around the state for five hours will be charged with grand larceny and making terrorist threats, authorities have said.

Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, an airport worker who reportedly knew how to take off but not land, could also face federal charges, Tupelo police chief John Quaka said.

The drama began soon after 5am Saturday when Patterson stole the Beechcraft King Air 90 plane. At 9.30am he posted a goodbye message on Facebook. “Sorry everyone. Never actually wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye,” Patterson wrote.

That marked the beginning of an erratic flight. Fifteen minutes later, Patterson called 911, warning that he planned to crash into a Tupelo Walmart. Officers evacuated people from the Walmart and a nearby convenience store.

As the plane circled over Tupelo, the city’s police department issued a statement saying it had been “notified that a pilot of an airplane (possibly King Air type) was flying over Tupelo, a city in north-east Mississippi. The pilot has made contact with E911 and is threatening to intentionally crash into Walmart on West Main.”
A snapshot from Flightaware showed a plane flying abstract patterns above the city. Video posted on Twitter allegedly showed the plane flying in circles over homes and businesses.
The pilot later headed north before eventually touching down in the field near Ripley, Mississippi, about 45 miles north-west of Tupelo. After Patterson was arrested, Tupelo mayor Todd Jordan called the resolution “the best case scenario”. The mayor said he hopes Patterson “will get the help he needs”.

“Thankful the situation has been resolved and that no one was injured,” Mississippi governor Tate Reeves tweeted. “Thank you most of all to local, state, and federal law enforcement who managed this situation with extreme professionalism.”

According to police chief Quaka, Patterson was employed fueling planes at the Tupelo Regional airport, giving him access to the twin-engine plane. “This is more likely a crime of opportunity,” Quaka said, noting that the airport’s tower is not staffed until 6am.

Quaka added that authorities had not identified Patterson’s reason for his actions. “That is going to take some time to determine. We will run down the motivation. We will pursue any angle and avenue that there is,” he said.

During the flight, police negotiators made contact to convince Patterson to land, but he didn’t know how. He was then coached by a private pilot into nearly landing at the Tupelo airport.

But the attempt was aborted and Patterson resumed the meandering flight. A negotiator re-established contact hours later at 10am to learn that Patterson had put the plane down in a soya bean field and was uninjured.

“There’s damage but believe it or not, the aircraft is intact,” Quaka told reporters at press conference. Police said Patterson is not believed to be a licensed pilot but has some flight instruction.

Ripley resident Roxanne Ward told the Associated Press she had been tracking the plane online and went to her father-in-law’s house with plans to go into the basement for safety.

The plane landed on her father-in-law’s property with a thud. “As soon as it crashed, police were there and waiting,” Ward said. “Police coaxed him out. They yelled at him, ‘Arms in the air.’” She said the pilot got out of the plane without resisting police.

Peter Goelz, former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board, said the theft of the plane showed the vulnerability of small airports.

“If you’ve got a trained pilot who can get in and grab a business jet, you’ve got a pretty lethal weapon there,” he said.

Goelz said the FAA and Department of Homeland Security would probably examine the incident and issue guidance focused on tightening up security, a potentially costly prospect.

“For an airport like Tupelo, for them to crank up security for Saturday morning at 5 am, when their tower doesn’t open until 6 that’s expensive,” Goelz said. “They’re not going to have the funds unless the feds are going to provide it.”

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