Crash threat over Mississippi skies ends with pilot’s arrest

An airport worker has been arrested after allegedly stealing a small plane, circling for hours over Mississippi and threatening to crash into a Walmart store before landing safely in a soybean field.

Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, who is said to have known how to take off, but not land, 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”.

The plane rests in a field of soybeans after crash-landing near Ripley (AP)

After an anxious morning of watching the plane’s meandering path over his city, Tupelo mayor Todd Jordan called the resolution “the best case scenario”.

No-one was injured in the incident.

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

It was not immediately known why, shortly after 5am local time (11am BST), the 10-year Tupelo Aviation employee took off in the fully-fuelled plane.

Fifteen minutes later, Patterson called a Lee County 911 dispatcher to say he planned to crash the plane into a Tupelo Walmart, Mr Quaka said. Officers evacuated people from the Walmart and a nearby convenience store.

The local Walmart was evacuated after the alert was raised (Rachel McWilliams via AP)

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

Police negotiators were able to make contact during the flight and convince Patterson to land, but he did not 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 learned Patterson had landed in a field and was uninjured, Mr Quaka said.

The plane landed near Ripley, Mississippi, about about 85 miles south-east of Memphis, Tennessee, and about 45 miles north-west of Tupelo.

The incident sparked alarm among people in Mississippi (Rachel McWilliams via AP)

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

Patterson, whose Facebook page said he is from Shannon, was charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats.

Mr Quaka said federal authorities also could bring charges. Police said Patterson is not believed to be a licensed pilot, but he has had some flight instruction.

Tupelo mayor Mr Jordan said Patterson contacted family members during the flight. The mayor said he hopes Patterson “will get the help he needs”.

Patterson’s Facebook message, posted at about 9.30am, read: “Sorry everyone. Never wanted to actually hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye.”

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