US authorities have said a man who stole a plane and flew it over Mississippi after threatening to crash it into a Walmart store faces charges of grand larceny and making terrorist threats.
The chief of police in Tupelo city, John Quaka, said Cory Wayne Patterson did not have a pilot’s licence but had some flight instruction and was an employee of Tupelo Aviation. Authorities said Patterson stole the plane, took off and then called in the threat to the 911 emergency number at 5am.
Mr Quaka said Patterson could also face federal charges. No one was injured in the incident.
The twin-engine Beechcraft plane, which circled erratically over the city of about 40,000 and a nearby area for hours, landed at around 11.25am, a dispatcher with the Benton County sheriff's office told AFP.
The Tupelo Police Department had earlier said the pilot told the 911 operator he was "threatening to intentionally crash into Walmart on West Main".
Officers evacuated the sprawling department store as well as a neighbouring shop and dispersed people "as much as practical".
A map from the FlightAware website showed what appeared to be the plane's course ― an erratic, zigzag pattern centred around Tupelo, a city of about 40,000. But the police statement cautioned that with the movement capabilities of an aircraft of that type, "the danger zone is much larger".
Leslie Criss, a magazine editor who lives in Tupelo, woke up early and was watching the situation on TV and social media. Several of her friends were outside watching the plane circle overhead.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in this town,” Ms Criss told the Associated Press. “It’s a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning.”
Former state Representative Steve Holland, who is a funeral director in Tupelo, said he had received calls from families concerned about the plane.
“One called and said, ‘Oh, my God, do we need to cancel mother’s funeral?’” Mr Holland said. “I just told them, ‘No, life’s going to go on.’”
The airplane drama unfolded as tens of thousands of college football fans were headed north for Saturday football games at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi State University in Starkville. Tupelo is between those two cities.