Pilot Lands After Threatening to Crash Into Mississippi Walmart

A pilot who threatened to crash into a Walmart in Tupelo, Miss., on Saturday morning, and then flew erratically for several hours, was taken into custody after landing in a field, officials said.

The plane landed in Benton County, about 50 miles northwest of Tupelo, and the pilot was taken into custody without injury, said Connie Strickland, a dispatcher for the Benton County Sheriff’s Department in Mississippi.

At a news conference, John Quaka, the chief of the Tupelo Police Department, identified the pilot as Cory Patterson, who was charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats. The chief said he expected federal charges to follow.

Mr. Patterson had some flight experience, but the authorities said they did not believe he was a licensed pilot. Aviation records show that since 2013, Mr. Patterson was considered a “student pilot” and prohibited from carrying passengers.

The authorities laid out a timeline of events, which began just after 5 a.m. when they said Mr. Patterson took a Beechcraft King Air C90 from Tupelo Regional Airport. He was the only person in the plane.

Mr. Patterson worked at Tupelo Aviation Unlimited for 10 years as a lineman fueling aircrafts, so he had access to the airport and planes, Chief Quaka said.

Mr. Patterson called 911 just before 5:30 a.m. and threatened to intentionally crash into a Walmart in Tupelo, which prompted the authorities to evacuate the store and surrounding areas as he flew above and around the city. The police talked directly with the pilot and negotiators convinced him not to crash.

The authorities said Mr. Patterson did not have enough flight experience to know how to land, and another pilot was brought in to talk Mr. Patterson through the process. As Mr. Patterson approached the Tupelo Airport and was about 100 feet from landing, he suddenly changed directions and started to head north away from the city.

When Mr. Patterson started to run out of fuel, he posted a message on Facebook around 9:30 a.m. that, in essence, “said goodbye,” Chief Quaka said.

The authorities said they lost contact with Mr. Patterson about 45 minutes later, but then just before 10:15 a.m., negotiators were back in touch with him and confirmed that he had landed in a field uninjured. The plane was damaged but intact, the authorities said.

On FlightAware, the flight-tracking website, the same type of aircraft Mr. Patterson was piloting was shown flying erratically over Tupelo, and then over Benton and Union Counties in Mississippi before landing.

During the flight, the plane flew between 900 and 2,000 feet above sea level, turning in circles and veering in different directions, according to the website.

Chief Quaka said Mr. Patterson’s motive was unclear, but the authorities “will run down the motivation and pursue any avenue and angle.”

Todd Jordan, the mayor of Tupelo, said “it’s never a good thing” when he gets an early-morning call from the police and fire chiefs, but he was relieved at the outcome. He said of the thousands of scenarios that he could think of, “this is not one that would happen here.”

In August 2018, an airline worker took off in a turboprop passenger plane in an unauthorized flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington. The worker, a ground service agent named Richard B. Russell, died after the plane crashed into an island on Puget Sound, about 30 miles from the airport.

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