A Tupelo Aviation employee allegedly stole a twin-engine plane at the city’s airport early Saturday, took off, and threatened to crash into a local Walmart before eventually landing unharmed in a field, Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said at a news briefing Saturday afternoon.
Quaka identified the man piloting the aircraft as Cory Wayne Patterson of Shannon, Mississippi. “We do not believe he is a licensed pilot. That is still ongoing to discover this,” the police chief said.
Patterson worked at Tupelo Aviation — which provides fueling and other services at Tupelo’s airport — for 10 years as a lineman fueling aircraft, Quaka said. “We do know that that aircraft was fully fueled the night before,” he added.
Patterson took off from the Tupelo airport shortly after 5 a.m. CT, and soon afterward called 911 from the plane to say he would crash it into a Walmart in the city, the police chief said.
Quaka said that while negotiators were able to convince the pilot not to crash into the store, he decided not to land during what was supposed to be the final approach back into the Tupelo Regional Airport.
“Negotiators from Tupelo Police Department made contact with the pilot and were able to convince him to not carry out this deed and to land the aircraft at Tupelo airport. The pilot did not have experience to land an aircraft. A private pilot assisted us in helping this pilot complete this. However, it was not completed. Upon final approach, the pilot aborted the landing and traveled in a northwest direction away from Tupelo,” he said.
Police said Patterson posted a “goodbye” message on his Facebook page from the aircraft at 9:32 a.m. CT.
“Sorry everyone. Never actually wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye,” Patterson wrote in the post. His account now appears to be disabled or deleted.
Around the time the message was posted, “we know he was getting close to running out of fuel,” Quaka said.”At 10:08 a.m., FAA lost radar contact with the aircraft. At 10:12 a.m., our negotiator re-established contact with the pilot. The pilot confirmed he had landed in a field, and he was uninjured,” he said.
The plane landed northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Mississippi, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. “This is more likely a crime of opportunity,” Quaka said.
Patterson was in contact with family members at some point during the flight, Quaka said, adding it is too early in the investigation to determine a motive in this incident.