Pilot in Custody After Threatening to Crash into Walmart

JACKSON, Miss. — An airplane circled over north Mississippi on Saturday morning, causing panic on the ground as the pilot threatened to crash into a Walmart. Police took custody of the pilot after hours. The plane eventually landed safely on a field.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Twitter shortly after 10:30 a.m. that the “situation has been resolved and that no one was injured.” He thanked law enforcement agencies that helped in bringing the aircraft down.

Federal Aviation Administration verified that the plane had landed north of Ripley (Mississippi), with just the pilot. Connie Strickland, Benton County Sheriff, also confirmed that the plane touched down and the subject was taken into police custody.

Ripley lies approximately 85 miles (137 km) southwest of Memphis, Tennessee and 45 miles (72 kilometers) northwest from Tupelo (Mississippi), where the flight originated.

Tupelo police said that the plane was seen flying over Tupelo around 5 a.m. Because the pilot had threatened to deliberately crash into the Walmart, Tupelo police evacuated the Walmart and the convenience store.

Three hours passed before the plane flew above Tupelo, then headed for rural areas. The sky was visible from the outside, and people looked up at it. Some took photographs or recorded video with their smartphones.

Authorities believe the aircraft — a Beechcraft King Air C90A — was stolen and are working to determine whether the pilot who threatened to crash the plane is an employee of a local airport, two people briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. The investigation involved multiple federal agencies, including Homeland Security.

The plane could be tracked online and found to have been moving for hours in the skies, with a looping route.

Leslie Criss (a Tupelo-based magazine editor) woke early to check the status on social media and TV. Many of her friends were watching from outside as she watched the plane fly 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.”

Steve Holland is an ex-state representative and a Tupelo funeral director.

“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.’”

It was Saturday, September 17, when tens of thousands of college-folk fans flew to Mississippi to watch the Mississippi State University in Starkville play. Between these two cities is Tupelo.

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