An inexperienced pilot steals a plane and threatens to crash it into one of the world’s largest retailers. This may sound like it has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it occurred almost 2,000 miles from Hollywood.
There was no director to shout “Cut!” and there were no professional stunt workers. The situation that unfolded in the Mississippi skies could have turned out much worse than it did.
So what’s the deal with this pilot and his threats? Sit back, buckle your seat belt, and we’ll look at this chaotic situation and how it unfolded.
Where Is Tupelo, Miss.?
Tupelo, Mississippi, sits in the northeast corner of the state. It’s most widely known for being the birthplace of the legendary king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley.
However, the city is also home to the Buffalo Park and Zoo and Tupelo National Battlefield. You can also find the Natchez Trace Parkway headquarters and visitor center. For a city of approximately 40,000 people, there was a flurry of activity and chaos on September 3, 2022.
Here’s how to Drink Your Way Along the Natchez Trace!
How Did the Pilot Get the Beechcraft King Air 90?
Wayne Patterson, the individual who stole the fully fueled Beechcraft King Air 90, was an employee of Tupelo Aviation. He had worked inside the airport for 10 years refueling planes and was somewhat familiar with the aircraft he stole as he had had some previous flight lessons.
However, he was not a licensed pilot and did not have permission to fly the plane.
How Long Did the Airplane Remain in the Air?
Patterson stole the plane at approximately 5:00 a.m. from Tupelo Regional Airport. He called 911 shortly after and threatened to crash into the local Walmart. Police quickly acted to contact and evacuate residents and businesses in the area.
While in the air, Patterson communicated with a negotiator working with law enforcement to orchestrate a safe and happy ending to this chaotic situation. More than five hours later (you can follow his erratic flight pattern here) Patterson landed the plane safely in a nearby field at 10:12 a.m.
What Happened to the People Inside the Walmart?
Walmart and the many surrounding homes and businesses were forced to evacuate. Luckily, the store’s hours are 6 a.m to 11 p.m., meaning the store would have been nearly empty as the events unfolded.
However, it did mean that the store had to delay opening until law enforcement resolved the situation.
Why Was the Pilot Charged With Grand Larceny and Making Terrorist Threats?
The pilot isn’t getting out of the woods despite landing the plane with minimal damage. Authorities immediately charged Patterson with grand larceny and making terrorist threats, both very serious crimes.
Larceny is the act of stealing property from another individual or business. However, it becomes grand larceny when the theft reaches a specific dollar amount. This typically means stealing any item worth more than $1,000; the Beechcraft King Air 90 would certainly be worth more than that. This charge could involve a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
Law enforcement takes threats against the lives of other individuals and property very seriously, especially after September 11. Patterson’s threat to crash the plane into the Walmart is the textbook definition of a terrorist threat and is a class D felony.
This can carry a $250,000 fine and five to 10 years in prison. Patterson likely faces additional charges as the federal government will probably tack on charges during their investigation.
Has Anything Like This Happened Before?
We live in a crazy world with people doing crazy things all the time. Sadly, this isn’t the first time individuals have stolen a plane from an airport.
In 2018, another airline employee stole a Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. F-15 Eagle fighter jets eventually met the stolen plane. However, this pilot experienced a much different ending than Patterson in Tupelo. The plane crashed into an island about an hour and 15 minutes after taking off.
Another incident occurred on April 6, 2009, when someone stole a Cessna 172 plane from a Canadian flight school. The aircraft crossed the border and flew hundreds of miles into the United States, where the United States military and the Department of Homeland Security tracked it.
The plane ultimately landed on a dirt road in Ellsinore, Mo., a town with 360 residents. The pilot fled from the airplane but was eventually taken into custody at a local grocery store.
A Best-Case Scenario in Tupelo, Miss.
Mississippi Governor, Tate Reeves, couldn’t have asked for a better ending to this situation. He tweeted, “The plane over North MS is down. Thankfully the situation has been resolved and that no one was injured. Thank you most of all to local, state, and federal law enforcement who managed this situation with extreme professionalism.”
Luckily, besides minor aircraft damage, the authorities resolved the situation peacefully and safely. This could have been a much more serious and tragic situation had authorities not stepped in as swiftly and professionally as they did.
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