Rogue pilot ends flight on Missouri highway
JOSH WINGROVE Globe and Mail update April 7, 2009 at 4:32 AM EDT Article Link
The pilot of a stolen Canadian trainer plane ignored the warnings of U.S. fighter jets to land before finally putting down on a southern Missouri highway Monday night, after the plane was stolen from a Northern Ontario college and taken on a rogue flight into U.S. airspace.
The pilot, identified by police as 31-year-old Adam Dylan Leon, eventually landed the plane on a rural road, reportedly tried to hide it under a bridge, and hitched a ride to a nearby grocer. Inside, he bought a bottle of Gatorade and waited for 30 minutes before being arrested.
"The plane was put down, the suspect fled the aircraft on foot, and local authorities subsequently picked him up," said RCMP superintendent Tim Cogan.
The ordeal began after the plane took off at 2:55 p.m. ET from the airport in Thunder Bay, Ont., which sits on the northern shores of Lake Superior just north of the Minnesota border.
The pilot had entered the fenced-in area where Confederation College keeps about a dozen planes used in its flight schools. The college said earlier in the night it couldn't say if the pilot was a student, but a friend of Mr. Leon's said he'd been taking flight courses in Thunder Bay.
The plane had the keys in it and was behind locked barriers, said Judi Maundrell, vice-president Academic and Student Services at the college.
"He had access [to the hangar], so obviously there's some connection, but I'm not sure what that connection is," Supt. Cogan said, adding the man was a Canadian citizen. CNN reported a suicide note was found near the hangar.
The pilot got in a Cessna 172 single-engine plane with full fuel tanks, and took off.
The pilot's path took him across Lake Superior and into the northern tip of Michigan, when two American F-16 fighter jets began following it.
The pilot, who is alleged to have been Mr. Leon, acknowledged the two F-16 Falcons visually, but did not speak with authorities over the radio. He then went through two other states — prompting an evacuation of Wisconsin's capitol building — before landing along Route FF, near Ellsinore, Mo., a town about 200 kilometres southwest of St. Louis.
"He did land on his own accord, and he's currently under the jurisdiction of local authorities," North American Aerospace Defense Command Master Sergeant Claudette Hutchinson said.
After landing the plane around 9:45 ET, the suspect fled into the woods, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Marty Elmore said.
According to staff at nearby grocery store and restaurant, he hitched a ride with another person before entering Simmons Grocery & Hardware, near Ellsinore. He used the facilities and bought a drink.
"He sat in here in the store with us for like 30 minutes. He heard us talking about people looking for a man who was running from the law," said Teresa Davidson, 41, a cashier at the place. Mr. Leon tried to buy beef jerky and a lemon-lime Gatorade, but only had enough for the drink, she said.
"He did seem a little nervous, but he didn't act strange or nothing," Ms. Davidson told The Globe and Mail. Then, around 10:20 ET, "Oh man there was just cops everywhere, they just came in and got him."
He went peacefully, she said. Staff identified him as an outsider when he asked to use a "washroom" instead of a "bathroom."
"It has been a crazy night. We was very scared," she said.
Sgt. Elmore said Mr. Leon would be facing a number of charges, and was to be handed over to federal authorities.
His flight path was erratic, and he never did speak with authorities over the radio, NORAD's Master Sgt. Hutchinson said.
"No indication of communication … He just was erratic for a period of time there, and then landed," she said.More on link