Pilot threatened to crash into a Walmart, Tupelo, Miss., police say


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The pilot of a small private plane that threatened Saturday morning to crash into a Walmart in Tupelo, Mississippi, will be charged with robbery and threatening terrorism, authorities said.

Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said the pilot, Cory Patterson, could also face federal charges as authorities investigate the erratic hours-long flight that sparked panic in the area and sparked a full-scale response from emergency officials.

It was not immediately clear whether Patterson had retained an attorney. Calls to several numbers associated with him on public records went to disconnected lines.

Quaka, speaking at a press conference, said Patterson flew a twin-engine plane out of Tupelo Regional Airport around 5 a.m. Saturday, then called 911 and told the dispatcher he was going crush it in a Walmart near the city‘s downtown. He said Patterson worked at Tupelo Aviation, refueling planes. Patterson had some flying experience, according to Quaka, but did not appear to be a licensed pilot.

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Negotiators eventually contacted Patterson and convinced him not to carry out the threat, Quaka said. A private pilot tries to help him land, but Patterson aborts the landing at the last moment and veers the plane northwest, toward Memphis.

After circling for hours as the plane ran out of fuel, Patterson posted an apology from his Facebook account.

“Sorry everyone. I never really meant to hurt anyone,” it read. “I love my parents and my sister, it’s not your fault. Goodbye.” The account, which Quaka confirmed belonged to Patterson, has since been deactivated.

Shortly after posting on Facebook, Patterson landed the plane in a cultivated field outside of Ripley, Mississippi. Deputies from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office took him into custody. The sheriff’s office said he was uninjured and did not resist being arrested. No other person was injured.

Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan called Patterson’s landing and arrest a “best case scenario.” He said at Saturday’s press conference that after the initial threat was resolved, he did not believe Patterson intended to harm himself or others.

“He’ll get the help he needs with whatever he’s dealing with,” Jordan said.

Quaka said authorities have not identified any motive.

“That’s going to take time to figure out,” he said. “We will reduce motivation. we will pursue all possible angles and avenues.

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Patterson’s arrest capped several tense hours in which emergency officials scrambled to follow the plane as it made erratic turns in the northern part of the state. Businesses were evacuated. Busy streets have been closed. People were told to stay alert.

“Thankfully the situation was resolved and no one was injured,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (right) said. tweeted. “Specially thank you to local, state and federal law enforcement who handled this situation with extreme professionalism.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was a Beechcraft King Air 90, a model that has a range of less than 1,000 miles and seats about six passengers. The agency said aviation officials are investigating with local law enforcement.

The Tupelo Police Department said he received reports around 5 a.m. that the plane was flying over Tupelo and that the pilot was “threatening to intentionally crash into Wal Mart on West Main”.

Police said they spoke directly with the pilot. Officers evacuated the nearby Walmart and gas station and attempted to keep people out of the area.

Flight tracking Data showed the aircraft made numerous sweeps over the area around Tupelo Regional Airport before turning and flying toward Memphis. By mid-morning, it was about 80 miles northwest of Tupelo, where it was filming near Holly Springs National Forest in northern Mississippi.

Reeves told people at the time to stay “alert and aware of updates from the Tupelo Police Department.”

Records show the plane was last registered with Southeast Aviation, an Oxford company. On August 26, he flew round-trip from Tupelo to Garden City Regional Airport in southwest Kansas.

The Walmart that was the target of the threats is in a strip mall near the city’s downtown, near retail stores, gas stations and single-family homes. An elementary school is about two blocks away.

Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson said before landing that the store was closed and evacuated early Saturday. “We work closely with local investigators and refer questions to law enforcement,” he said.

Videos local social media users showed a low-flying plane banking on a neighborhood on Saturday morning.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” wrote one user, “but this plane has been circling for 45 minutes around Tupelo.”

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