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Man in custody after threatening to crash plane into Mississippi Walmart, police say
By Adrienne Vogt and Jason Hanna, CNN
The pilot in custody is "being charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats," Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka told reporters Saturday afternoon.
He was being transported to Tupelo to face the charges, Quaka said.
"We do anticipate that the federal government will proceed with federal charges in the very near future," Quaka said.
A Tupelo Aviation employee allegedly stole a twin-engine plane at the city's airport early Saturday, took off, and threatened to crash into a local Walmart before eventually landing unharmed in a field, Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said at a news briefing Saturday afternoon.
Quaka identified the man piloting the aircraft as Cory Wayne Patterson of Shannon, Mississippi.
"We do not believe he is a licensed pilot. That is still ongoing to discover this," the police chief said.
Patterson worked at Tupelo Aviation — which provides fueling and other services at Tupelo's airport — for 10 years as a lineman fueling aircraft, Quaka said.
"We do know that that aircraft was fully fueled the night before," he added.
Patterson took off from the Tupelo airport shortly after 5 a.m. CT, and soon afterward called 911 from the plane to say he would crash it into a Walmart in the city, the police chief said.
Quaka said that while negotiators were able to convince the pilot not to crash into the store, he decided not to land during what was supposed to be the final approach back into the Tupelo Regional Airport.
"Negotiators from Tupelo Police Department made contact with the pilot and were able to convince him to not carry out this deed and to land the aircraft at Tupelo airport. The pilot did not have experience to land an aircraft. A private pilot assisted us in helping this pilot complete this. However, it was not completed. Upon final approach, the pilot aborted the landing and traveled in a northwest direction away from Tupelo," he said.
Police said Patterson posted a “goodbye” message on his Facebook page from the aircraft at 9:32 a.m. CT.
“Sorry everyone. Never actually wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye,” Patterson wrote in the post. His account now appears to be disabled or deleted.
Around the time the message was posted, "we know he was getting close to running out of fuel," Quaka said.
"At 10:08 a.m., FAA lost radar contact with the aircraft. At 10:12 a.m., our negotiator re-established contact with the pilot. The pilot confirmed he had landed in a field, and he was uninjured," he said.
The plane landed northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Mississippi, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"This is more likely a crime of opportunity," Quaka said.
Patterson was in contact with family members at some point during the flight, Quaka said, adding it is too early in the investigation to determine a motive in this incident.
CNN has reached out to Tupelo Aviation.
Sommer Thornton, a resident of Tupelo who lives near the Mississippi city's airport, said she woke up around 6 a.m. local time to get diapers from the nearby Walmart for a baby shower. But then she opened up Facebook and read the news that police said a pilot was threatening to crash a plane into a Walmart in the city.
Local news reports were advising the community to stay away from the store, she told CNN.
Thornton said she heard a plane buzzing above, but didn't think much of it. "I live right beside the airport, so it's normal for me to hear airplanes," she said.
When she walked out of her home, she saw a small plane flying quite low.
"And it kept circling around and around and then it dropped down," she told CNN.
"He literally flew over everything," Thornton is heard saying in a video she shared with CNN that shows the plane zipping by right above her home.
Thornton said she wanted to get a poster and write phrases like, "You are loved" and "Please come down," hoping the individual flying the plane would see it.
Then she remembered the plane could run out of fuel, so she ran inside her house to get her husband and told him they needed to get their kids and evacuate.
As they started rounding the kids up, news reports came in saying the plane had moved away from Tupelo, so they stayed put.
Thornton said she was still in shock hours after the plane left her area.
"I just wanted to get diapers," she said.
Watch the video from Thornton here:
Roxanne Ward, 42, told CNN the plane that circled above northern Mississippi landed near her home in Gravestown.
"He landed pretty hard," she said.
The plane landed in a field several miles from an airport near Ripley, Mississippi, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Gravestown is located about a 5-mile drive from that airport, and about 45 miles northwest of Tupelo.
Video that Ward shared with CNN shows the small plane largely intact in a field with law enforcement surrounding the pilot.
"We did see the suspect with his hands up and we saw police detain him without any incident," she said.
The plane landed behind the Gravestown Fire Department around 10:20 a.m. CT, Ward said.
"Police were there immediately, which led me to believe that they were following him," she added.
Ward said she heard the plane coming and ran over to her father-in-law's house to hide in the basement.
"That's when we heard the thud," she said.
CNN's Michael Besozzi contributed to this post.
According to a flight pattern as seen on FlightAware, the pilot who police said threatened to intentionally crash into a Walmart in Tupelo circled the small aircraft around the city several times.
The plane then headed northwest before circling in three other areas in northern Mississippi, according to the pattern.
The plane finally “landed in a field” northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Mississippi, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane that flew for hours over northern Mississippi on Saturday morning “landed in a field” northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Mississippi, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“A Beechcraft King Air 90 landed in a field several miles northwest of Ripley Airport in Ripley, Miss. The pilot departed from Tupelo Regional Airport in Tupelo, Miss., earlier this morning and circled the area. Only the pilot was on board,” the FAA said.
Ripley is roughly a 45-mile drive northwest of Tupelo, and about a 85-mile drive southeast of Memphis, Tennessee.
The FAA will investigate the incident and is coordinating with local law enforcement, the agency said.
A government source familiar with the situation previously told CNN that the stolen plane was "down." A separate source told CNN the pilot is in custody.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also confirmed the plane that was circling over the northern part of the state is now "down."
A government source familiar with the situation previously told CNN that a stolen plane that flew for hours around Tupelo was "down."
A separate source told CNN the pilot is in custody.
Residents of the Tupelo area recorded video of the small aircraft as it flew nearby.
The plane is a twin-engine, Beechcraft C90A turboprop, according to Federal Aviation Administration records that match a registration number confirmed to CNN by a source familiar with the situation.
Video from Rachel McWilli in Tupelo shows the plane overhead:
Mary Ellen Rogers' video shows another view of the plane:
The plane is currently "down," according to a government source.