Mississippi authorities breathed a sigh of relief when an airport worker in a stolen plane landed safely after hovering over the city of Tupelo for five hours, flying erratically and threatening to s crush in a Walmart.
The man who stole the plane, Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, was arrested after landing the plane in a soybean field. He has been charged with robbery and threatening terrorism, Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said, and could also face federal charges.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced on Twitter just after 10:30 a.m. CDT that the “situation was resolved and no one was injured.”
Patterson had been an employee of Tupelo Aviation for 10 years, police said. He had flight training, according to Quaka, but didn’t know how to land.
Quaka said it was not immediately clear why shortly after 5 a.m. Patterson took off in a fully fueled twin-engine Beechcraft King Air C90A. Fifteen minutes later, Patterson called a Lee County 911 dispatcher to say he planned to crash the plane into a Tupelo Walmart, Quaka said. Officers evacuated people from Walmart and a nearby convenience store.
The airport tower isn’t occupied until 6 a.m., Quaka said, likely making it a “crime of opportunity.”
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Reeves warned residents near Tupelo, Mississippi to “be on high alert.”
Officials nearly persuaded Patterson to land the plane safely in Tupelo, even though he said he didn’t know how to land, Quaka said at a Saturday afternoon news conference. The authorities even called in a private pilot to help them.
But Patterson abandoned that plan, Quaka said, and flew north instead, eventually bringing the plane back to ground level. The plane landed near Ripley, Mississippi, about 85 miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, and about 45 miles northwest of Tupelo.
The plane was damaged, but “believe it or not, the plane is intact,” Quaka said.
Quaka said Patterson, on his Facebook page, posted what appeared to be a farewell message around 9:30 a.m. The post said he “never really meant to hurt anyone.”
Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan at one point said Patterson contacted family members during the robbery. The mayor said he hoped Patterson “gets the help he needs.”
Leslie Criss, a magazine editor who lives in Tupelo, woke up early and watched the situation on TV and social media. Several of his friends were outside watching the plane circle overhead.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in this town,” Criss said. “It’s a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning.”
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.
Contributor: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press