TUPELO, Miss. - A man who stole a plane and flew it over northern Mississippi after threatening to crash it into a Walmart faces charges of grand larceny and terroristic threats, authorities said Saturday.
Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said at a press conference that Cory Wayne Patterson stole a Beechcraft King Air C90A from the Tupelo Regional Airport, took off early Saturday, called 911 and then threatened to crash the aircraft. Patterson didn’t have a pilot’s license but had some flight instruction and worked at Tupelo Aviation fueling aircraft, which gave him access to planes.
Negotiators spoke to Patterson and convinced him not carry out the threat and to land at the airport. Patterson did not have the experience to land and another pilot attempted to coach him through it.
A negotiator re-established contact, and the plane landed safely.
Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan said he hopes Patterson "will get the help he needs" and didn’t intend to hurt himself or others in the hours after the initial threat. Quaka said Patterson, on his Facebook page, posted what was in essence a goodbye message at about 9:30 a.m.
"Sorry everyone. Never wanted to actually hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye," the message read.
Michael Canders, director of the Aviation Center at Farmingdale State College in New York, called the incident "a wake-up call" for general aviation airports and their staff.
The Transportation Security Administration requires annual training emphasizing a "see something, say something" approach to try and prevent a scenario like what police believe occurred in Tupelo — an employee with access to aircraft, Canders said.
"This very thing is discussed in the course, the potential for somebody gaining access and intent on damage," he said. "It’s dependent on all of those who work at an airport. If you see someone you don't recognize or some unusual activity, you’re supposed to report that."
An online flight tracking service showed the plane meandering in the sky early Saturday.
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," Criss told The Associated Press. "It's a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning."
The airplane drama unfolded as tens of thousands of college football fans were headed to north Mississippi for Saturday football games at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi State University in Starkville. Tupelo is between those two cities.