Airplane struck terminal and vehicles
Suspect was being sought in Colorado Springs death, police say
Airline says employee was on administrative leave at time of incident
Commercial plane did not get airborne, official says
A SkyWest Airlines pilot on the run after allegedly killing his former girlfriend last week attempted to steal one of his company’s commercial jetliners early Tuesday, but he killed himself before the plane became airborne, authorities said.
Police in Colorado and Utah spent all day Tuesday trying to piece together the bizarre incident, which involved a stolen CRJ200 that struck the terminal and parked vehicles at St. George Municipal Airport in Utah.
The fugitive was identified as Brian J. Hedglin, 40. SkyWest Airlines said he was on administrative leave.
Hedglin apparently used a rug or piece of carpet to scale a barbed wire fence to reach the plane, St. George police said.
“He is going to know exactly how to get into the plane, activate the redundant systems and take that plane off,” said Capt. James Van Fleet.
Hedglin and Christina Cornejo, 39, who was found dead Friday of stab wounds in Colorado Springs, both served in the Colorado Army National Guard, officials said.
Cornejo was found at Hedglin’s residence, but authorities don’t know whether she went there voluntarily or was abducted, Colorado Springs Police spokeswoman Barbara A. Miller told CNN.
No passengers were on board the CRJ200, and it was not in service at the time of Tuesday’s incident in Utah, the airline said.
Hedglin, who joined SkyWest in 2005, was found dead in the plane’s aisle from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Van Fleet told reporters.
A security officer checking the airport’s perimeter shortly before 1 a.m. first saw a motorcycle, its engine still warm. The officer went back to the terminal to check on its registration, police said.
The officer saw the aircraft in the parking lot of the airport terminal, its engines still running, said Van Fleet. Several automobiles were damaged. The plane at some point clipped the terminal building and breached a fence, according to CNN Salt Lake City affiliate KSL.
St. George city spokesman Marc Mortensen said the pilot reversed the aircraft off the jet bridge before pushing it forward.
The left wing clipped the bridge and the plane turned left, scraping the terminal building en route to the parking lot. The aircraft leaked some fuel.
Asked why the pilot may have driven to St. George, Van Fleet replied, “The person who has those answers, unfortunately, is dead.”
Van Fleet said, “I don’t think we’re any more vulnerable than any other airport,” but officials said they would review security.
Cornejo was found dead after a call from a family member, Colorado Springs police said. The pair were not dating at the time of Cornejo’s death, Colorado Springs police said.
Hedglin was immediately identified as a suspect.
“Detectives went so far as to contact SkyWest and have them deactivate Mr. Hedglin’s access cards in the event he showed up there,” police said. Police also believed Hedglin might try to hide in mountains, according to Miller.
Airline spokeswoman Betsy Talton said law enforcement officials will look into how Hedglin might have gained access to the airplane.
SkyWest provided few details on exactly what occurred.
“The aircraft did sustain damage; the extent of the damage is currently being inspected by our maintenance and safety professionals,” the airline said. “SkyWest is assisting authorities in the investigation.”
SkyWest said passengers were being accommodated on other flights and through ground transportation.
The FBI office in Salt Lake City said agents were at the airport and gathering facts with other agencies.
“It is important to note there is no ongoing public safety issue, and the scene is under the control of law enforcement,” Agent Debbie D. Bertram said.
Spokesman David Castelveter of the Transportation Safety Administration said the agency was reviewing “perimeter compliance” at the airport.
According to Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, the CRJ200 typically seats 50 passengers.
CNN’s Shawn Nottingham, Alta Spells, Phil Gast, Calandra Corder and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.