Tupelo: man arrested after pilot threatened to crash ‘stolen plane’ into Walmart store in Mississippi

Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, has been arrested, police have said

An airport worker has been arrested after allegedly stealing a small plane, circling for hours over Mississippi and threatening to crash into a Walmart store before landing safely in a soybean field.

Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, who is said to have known how to take off, but not land, was uninjured after the rough landing shortly after posting a goodbye message to his parents and sister on Facebook, authorities said at a news conference.

The message said he “never actually wanted to hurt anyone”.

No-one was injured in the incident.

Walmart in Tupelo, MS. Picture: Google Maps

How big is the plane?

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Footage shared on social media shows the size of the plane.

Mississippi Sport tweeted: “An airplane in Tupelo is threatening to crash in to Tupelo Walmart this morning. Avoid area. Here is video of the actual airplane, a fairly large one.”

Plane may have been stolen

Authorities believe the aircraft was stolen and are working to determine whether the pilot threatening to crash the plane is an employee of a local airport, according to sources.

Multiple US federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, are now involved in the investigation and are working to discern a motive.

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An online flight tracking service showed the plane meandering in the sky and following a looping path.

“All citizens should be on alert and aware”

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter: “State law enforcement and emergency managers are closely tracking this dangerous situation.

“All citizens should be on alert and aware of updates from the Tupelo Police Department.”

Law enforcement told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that the plane had left the airspace around Tupelo and was flying near a Toyota manufacturing plant in nearby Blue Springs.

Witness has “never seen anything like this”

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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,” Ms Criss told The Associated Press. “It’s a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning.”

“Best case scenario”

After an anxious morning of watching the plane’s meandering path over his city, Tupelo mayor Todd Jordan called the resolution “the best case scenario”.

No-one was injured in the incident.

“This is more likely a crime of opportunity”

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Tupelo police chief John Quaka said Patterson was employed fuelling planes at the Tupelo Regional Airport, giving him access to the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air C90A.

It was not immediately known why, shortly after 5am local time (11am BST), the 10-year Tupelo Aviation employee took off in the fully-fuelled plane.

Fifteen minutes later, Patterson called a Lee County 911 dispatcher to say he planned to crash the plane into a Tupelo Walmart, Mr Quaka said. Officers evacuated people from the Walmart and a nearby convenience store.

“This is more likely a crime of opportunity,” said Mr Quaka, adding that the airport’s tower is not staffed until 6am.

Pilot had to be coached into how to land the plane

Police negotiators were able to make contact during the flight and convince Patterson to land, but he did not know how.

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He was coached by a private pilot into nearly landing at the Tupelo airport but he aborted the attempt at the last minute and resumed the flight, authorities said.

A negotiator re-established contact around 10am, and learned Patterson had landed in a field and was uninjured, Mr Quaka said.

The plane landed near Ripley, Mississippi, about about 85 miles south-east of Memphis, Tennessee, and about 45 miles north-west of Tupelo.

“There’s damage, but believe it or not, the aircraft is intact,” the police chief told reporters.

What has the pilot been charged with?

Patterson, whose Facebook page said he is from Shannon, was charged with grand larceny and making terroristic threats.

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Mr Quaka said federal authorities also could bring charges. Police said Patterson is not believed to be a licensed pilot, but he has had some flight instruction.

Tupelo mayor Mr Jordan said Patterson contacted family members during the flight. The mayor said he hopes Patterson “will get the help he needs”.

Patterson’s Facebook message, posted at about 9.30am, read: “Sorry everyone. Never wanted to actually hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye.”

Where is Tupelo?

It is a city in the Lee County, Mississippi.

Tupelo is the county seat - which is essentially the capital city of a county and the administrative centre.

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It is located in the north of Mississippi.

Tupelo is the sixth largest city in the state, behind the likes of Jackson, Gulfport and Southaven.

The city is the birth place of Elvis Presley and Diplo.