Airport worker crash-landed stolen plane in field after making threats, say US police

Authorities say he threatened to smash into a Walmart superstore

The stolen plane rests in a field of soy beans after crash-landing near Ripley, Mississippi. AP
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An airport worker who knew how to take off but not land stole a small plane and threatened to crash it into a Walmart in Mississippi, police said.

Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, circled for five hours before ending the flight safely in a soybean field, where police arrested him.

He was uninjured after the rough landing shortly after posting a goodbye message to his parents and sister on Facebook, authorities said at a news conference. The message said he “never actually wanted to hurt anyone”.

After an anxious morning of watching the plane's meandering path overhead, Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan called the resolution “the best-case scenario”.

No one was injured.

Mr Patterson was employed fuelling planes at the Tupelo Regional Airport, giving him access to the twin-engined Beechcraft King Air C90A, said police chief John Quaka.

Jimmy Huddleston, left, and Daniel Alsup, right, discuss a plane that crash landed in a field near their homes in Ripley, Mississippi, on Saturday. AP

It was not immediately known why, shortly after 5am, the employee of 10 years at Tupelo Aviation took off in the fully fuelled plane. Fifteen minutes later, Mr Patterson called a Lee County 911 dispatcher to say he planned to crash the plane into a Tupelo Walmart, Mr Quaka said. Officers evacuated the Walmart and a nearby convenience store.

“This is more likely a crime of opportunity,” said Mr Quaka. He added that the airport's tower was not staffed until 6am.

Police negotiators were able to make contact during the flight and convince Mr Patterson to land, but he didn't know how.

He was coached by a private pilot into nearly landing at the Tupelo airport but he aborted the attempt at the last minute and resumed the flight, authorities said.

A negotiator re-established contact around 10am, and learnt Mr Patterson had landed in a field and was uninjured, Mr Quaka said. The plane landed near Ripley, Mississippi, about 140 kilometres south-east of Memphis.

“There’s damage but, believe it or not, the aircraft is intact,” the police chief told reporters.

Mr Patterson, whose Facebook page said he was from Shannon, Mississippi, was charged with grand larceny and making terrorist threats. Mr Quaka said federal authorities also could bring charges.

Updated: September 04, 2022, 8:41 PM