Small-plane pilot held after threat to crash into Walmart

A pilot who had threatened to crash his small plane into a Walmart store in the US state of Mississippi has landed in a farm field and been taken into custody, officials said.

The twin-engine Beechcraft plane, which had circled erratically over the city of Tupelo and a nearby area for hours, landed around 11:25 am Eastern time (1525 GMT), Connie Strickland, a dispatcher with the Benton County sheriff’s office, told AFP.

The pilot, identified by Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka as Corey Wayne Patterson of nearby Shannon, will be charged with grand larceny and making terrorist threats, CNN reported.

Quaka said additional federal charges were likely.

The motive behind the bizarre theft remained unclear.

Quaka said Patterson had worked for 10 years for Tupelo Aviation — where his job included fueling aircraft — and had some flight instruction but did not appear to be a licensed pilot.

The pilot had called a 911 emergency operator in Tupelo around 5:00 am, “threatening to intentionally crash into Walmart on West Main,” an earlier police statement said.

The sprawling department store and a neighboring gas station were evacuated, and people were warned to stay away.

Quaka said Tupelo police negotiators made radio contact with Patterson and managed to persuade him not to crash the plane but to land it at the airport.

Because he lacked experience in landing, a private pilot was enlisted to talk Patterson through the process.

But at the last moment he aborted the landing and traveled northwest, away from Tupelo, Quaka said.

Patterson posted a “goodbye” message on his Facebook page around this time, apparently as his fuel ran low, the police chief said.

But he managed to land the plane in the field, and told police where he was.

Roxanne Ward, 42, who lives near the site, told CNN she heard a loud “thud,” adding, “He landed pretty hard.”

It was unclear if Patterson was injured.

Quaka told reporters he had been in contact with Patterson’s family, who were “very concerned” about his well-being.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating the incident.