An airplane circled over north Mississippi on Saturday morning, causing panic on the ground as the pilot allegedly threatened to crash into a Walmart. Hours later, the plane landed safely in a field, and police took the pilot into custody.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Twitter shortly after 10:30 a.m. local time that the “situation has been resolved and that no one was injured.” He thanked law enforcement agencies that helped in bringing the aircraft down.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the plane landed northwest of Ripley, Miss., with only the pilot aboard. Benton County Sheriff Dispatcher Connie Strickland also said the plane landed and the subject was taken into custody.
The plane started circling over Tupelo at about 5 a.m., the Tupelo Police Department said. Officers evacuated a Walmart and a convenience store in Tupelo because the pilot allegedly threatened to intentionally crash into the Walmart.
The plane flew over Tupelo more than three hours before flying toward more rural areas. People walked outside and looked toward the skies, some of them taking photos or cellphone videos.
Authorities believe the aircraft — a Beechcraft King Air C90A — was stolen and are working to determine whether the pilot is an employee of a local airport, two people briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. Multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, were involved in the investigation and are working to discern a motive.
Aircraft meandering in the sky
An online flight tracking service showed the plane meandering in the sky for several hours and following a looping path.
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,” Criss told The Associated Press. “It’s a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning.”
Former state representative Steve Holland, who is a funeral director in Tupelo, said he had received calls from families concerned about the plane.
“One called and said, ‘Oh, my God, do we need to cancel mother’s funeral?”‘ Holland said. “I just told them, ‘No, life’s going to go on.”‘
The airplane drama unfolded as tens of thousands of college football fans were headed to north Mississippi for Saturday football games at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi State University in Starkville. Tupelo is between those two cities.