Authorities say a plane that was circling over northern Mississippi and whose pilot had threatened to crash it into a Walmart store landed safely on Saturday.
Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Twitter that the “situation has been resolved and that no one was injured.” He thanked law enforcement agencies that helped in bringing the aircraft down.
The pilot, identified as 29-year-old Cory Wayne Patterson, was in custody and charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats, Tupelo Police chief John Quaka said during a Saturday afternoon press conference.
Patterson, an employee at the airport in Tupelo, allegedly stole the Beechcraft King Air C90A just after 5 a.m. — when the air traffic control tower was unmanned. He does not have a pilot’s license or experience in landing planes but has had some flight instruction, Quaka said. His job at the airport involves refueling planes.
A Walmart in the town was evacuated just after 5:20 a.m. after Patterson called 911 and reported that he was going to fly the plane into the store, Quaka said. Major streets in Tupelo were also shut down.
Negotiators subsequently made contact with Patterson and were able to convince him not to fly the plane into the Walmart, according to Quaka.
The Beechcraft was in the air for more than five hours, circling over Tupelo and another community nearby. An online flight tracking service showed the plane meandering in the sky for several hours and following a looping path.
Law enforcement told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal shortly after 8 a.m. that the plane had left the airspace around Tupelo and was flying near a Toyota manufacturing plant in nearby Blue Springs.
Just after 9:30 a.m. local time, Patterson posted on Facebook from the plane. At the conclusion of the post he wrote “goodbye,” Quaka said. The plane was low on fuel. But, with some instruction from a private pilot, Patterson was able to land the plane about 30 minutes later.
The plane sustained minimal damage during the landing, Quaka said. The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane touched down in a field several miles northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Mississippi.
No one was injured in the incident.
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.”
Former state Rep. Steve Holland, who is a funeral director in Tupelo, said he had received calls from families concerned about the plane.
“One called and said, ‘Oh, my God, do we need to cancel mother’s funeral?'” Holland said. “I just told them, ‘No, life’s going to go on.'”
Patterson will likely face federal charges as well, Quaka said.
Multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FAA, were involved in the investigation. They are still working to discern a motive.
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.