Daily Journal staff reports

TUPELO, Mississippi – A 29-year-old Shannon man faces state charges of grand larceny and making terrorist threats after he stole an airplane from Tupelo Regional Airport and threatened to crash it into a Walmart.

Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said federal officials were also considering four or five additional charges against Cory Wayne Patterson, who took a Beechcraft King Air C90A King at approximately 5 a.m. Saturday before calling 911 and threatening to crash it.

Quaka said negotiators convinced Patterson to land the plane with the assistance of a pilot over the radio, but during the descent onto the runway, the man aborted the landing and flew north toward Ripley. Quaka said he could not say why Patterson aborted the landing.

After more than four-and-a-half hours, Patterson finally crash landed the plane in a field in Tippah County.

Tippah County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Josh Bateman said Tippah and Benton County deputies took Patterson into joint custody at the scene of the plane’s landing behind Gravestown Volunteer Fire Department, which is located about five miles west of Ripley near the Benton County line.

After being held in the Tippah County Jail for a short time, Tupelo police transported Patterson back to Lee County.

Bateman said he is unsure of additional charges from Tippah County. Officials there are researching state statutes to see if they will file further charges.

Bateman said the FAA is sending investigators to look over the plane before it can be removed from the field.

At this time, no motive is known for Patterson’s theft of the plane or his threats.

“It is an ongoing investigation,” Quaka said. “That is going to take some time to determine. Those are always the last things we learn in an investigation. We will run down the motivation. We pursue any angle and avenue that there is, and we will work in conjunction with the FBI to do so.”

Patterson was a 10-year employee of Tupelo Aviation Unlimited, the fixed-based operator at Tupelo Regional Airport. Patterson was a lineman for TAU, which means he fueled the planes.

During the flight, negotiators, his mother, sibling and others communicated with Patterson, according to Quaka.

Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Joseph Wheeler told the Daily Journal he knew and spoke with Patterson often.

“I thought my guys were messing with me, especially after they said the name. I would think I would do it before he did. … Seemed like a straight-laced guy and a hard worker,” he said, noting that Patterson, though not trained in landing an aircraft, pulled off a “textbook” field landing. The plane was damaged but intact, according to law officials.

According to the FAA, Cory Wayne Patterson received a student pilot license on February 6, 2013. FAA rules require pilots to submit medical evaluations every two years to maintain their license. Patterson’s last medical evaluation was in 2013 when he received his license. Based on FAA records, Patterson’s license is no longer valid.

When asked if there were any protocols in place to prevent events such as this, Wheeler said it was impossible to know because employees had to have access to planes while working.

“We are going to have to reach out to some other airports that went through something like this and see what they’ve done,” he said. “It is hard when someone is doing exactly what they are doing. … You can’t look at someone’s head and read what’s on their mind.”

Quaka called Patterson’s theft of the plane a “crime of opportunity” and not a breakdown of security protocols.

Below are the updates from the Daily Journal’s live coverage of the event.

UPDATE (3:32 p.m.):

According to the FAA, Cory Wayne Patterson received a student pilot license on February 6, 2013. According to FAA rules, to keep licenses current, pilots have to submit medical evaluations every two years. Patterson’s last medical evaluation was in 2013 when he received his license. A student pilot license limits pilots to private flight with no passengers.

Based on FAA records, Patterson’s license is no longer valid.

Tupelo Police Department released a photo of Cory Wayne Patterson, 29. The photo was taken in the Tippah County field where Patterson landed the plane he stole from Tupelo Regional Airport.

UPDATE (1:52 p.m.):

Police Chief John Quaka told the Daily Journal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)  is exploring “four or five” more charges that could be announced against Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, of Shannon in the coming weeks. 

“It is an ongoing investigation,” he said. “That is going to take some time to determine. Those are always the last things we learn in an investigation. We will run down the motivation. We pursue any angle and avenue that there is, and we will work in conjunction with the FBI to do so.”

Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Joseph Wheeler told the Daily Journal he knew and spoke with Patterson on a daily basis.

“I thought my guys were messing with me, especially after they said the name. I would think I would do it before he did,” Wheeler said. “(Patterson) seemed like a strait-laced guy and a hard worker.”

Wheeler also said Patterson, though not trained in landing an aircraft, pulled off a “textbook” field landing after the four-and-a-half-hour ordeal. The plane was damaged but intact, according to law officials.

When asked if there were any protocols in place to prevent events such as this, Wheeler said it was impossible to know because employees had to have access to planes while working.

“We are going to have to reach out to some other airports that went through something like this and see what they’ve done,” he said. “It is hard when someone is doing exactly what they are doing. … You can’t look at someone’s head and read what’s on their mind.”

UPDATE (1:45 p.m.):

Cory Patterson was a 10-year employee of Tupelo Aviation Unlimited, the fixed-based operator at Tupelo Regional Airport. Patterson was a lineman for TAU, which means he fueled the planes.

UPDATE (12:49 p.m.):

According to Tippah County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Josh Bateman, Cory Patterson was taken into joint custody with the Benton County Sheriff’s Department at the scene of the plane’s landing behind Gravestown Volunteer Fire Department, which is located about five miles west of Ripley near the Benton County line.

When officials arrived on the scene, the plane’s engine was still running, signifying the aircraft still had fuel.

After being held in the Tippah County Jail for a short time, Tupelo police transported Patterson back to Lee County. Tupelo police were also on the scene of the landing.

While Patterson faces charges of grand larceny and making terrorist threats from Tupelo authorities, Bateman said he is unsure of additional charges from Tippah County. Officials there are researching state statutes to see if they will file further charges.

Bateman said the FAA is sending investigators to look over the plane before it can be removed from the field.

At this time, no motive is known for Patterson’s theft of the plane or his threats.

UPDATE (12:20 p.m.):

At a press conference at Tupelo City Hall, local officials gave the following updates:

• Cory Wayne Patterson, 29, of Shannon, faces local charges of grand larceny and making terrorist threats. Police Chief John Quaka said he expects federal charges, too.

• Patterson has had some flight instruction, but Quaka does not believe he is a licensed pilot.

• Law enforcement negotiators were able to convince Patterson not to go through with his threat and instead to land at Tupelo Regional Airport. Patterson did not know how to land the plane, so a private pilot was brought in to walk Patterson through the process. Upon final approach, the Patterson aborted the landing and traveled in a northwest direction away from Tupelo. (Correction: A previous version said the private pilot aborted the attempt.)

• Law enforcement and family members were in contact with Patterson throughout the situation.

• Quaka said authorities believe Patterson landed the crash landed the plane because it was running low on or was out of fuel.

• Quaka called Patterson’s theft of the plane a “crime of opportunity” and not a breakdown of security protocols. Patterson worked for a company that is contracted to maintain planes at the airport, including fueling the planes. This plane was fueled Friday night.

UPDATE (11:11 a.m.):

According to the FAA, the pilot was the only subject on the plane. The FAA is coordinating with local law enforcement and will investigate the incident.

UPDATE (10:36 a.m.):

The Tupelo Police Department will hold a press conference around noon.

UPDATE (10:35 a.m.):

The Benton County Sheriff’s Department has taken Patterson into custody.

UPDATE (10:23 a.m.): 

Multiple sources have confirmed the plane is down in Ashland. The pilot, Cory Patterson, is alive. The status of the plane is unknown.

UPDATE (9:43 a.m.): 

Multiple law enforcement, airport and local authorities have identified the subject as Cory Patterson, 29, of Shannon.

Patterson is a 2011 Tupelo High School graduate.

A Cory Patterson believed to be the suspect posted on Facebook Saturday morning, “Sorry everyone. Never actually wanted to hurt anyone. I love my parents and sister this isn’t your fault. Goodbye.”

UPDATE (9:37 a.m.):

The plane is lingering west of Tippah County lake, just north of Ripley.

UPDATE (9:23 a.m.):

A communications official with the FBI’s Jackson field office said, “The FBI, in accordance with our state and local partners, are aware of the situation. This is an active and ongoing matter. We will provide additional information as we have it.”

UPDATE (9:19 a.m.):

A spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety said that the Mississippi Bureau of Information is on the scene to assist local and federal authorities.

UPDATE (9:14 a.m.):

Officials are now saying that the pilot of the plane is not an employee of the Tupelo Regional Airport, but may work for a Fixed Based Operator that leases space at the Tupelo airport.

UPDATE (9:07 a.m.):

The plane is currently flying over a rural area in Hickory Flat and law enforcement have converged on that area. 

UPDATE (8:44 a.m.):

The plane is now reported to be airborne north of Tupelo in the Benton, Union County area.

Local, State and Federal authorities are continuing to monitor this dangerous situation.

UPDATE (8:42 a.m.):

The Mississippi Department of Public Safety is aware of the situation and is monitoring it closely.

UPDATE (8:39 a.m.):

The plane is now located Northwest of New Albany, flying in that general direction from Tupelo.

UPDATE (8:21 a.m.):

Police have reopened roads in west Tupelo around the airport as the threat has shifted away from this area, at least temporarily.

UPDATE (8:12 a.m.):

An airport personnel with knowledge of the matter said that the plane has currently left Tupelo’s airspace, but that could change within moments.

Law enforcement on the scene said the pilot is now flying near the Toyota plant in Blue Springs.

UPDATE (7:58 a.m.):

Here’s what we know about the plane:

Model: 1987 Beech C90A (Fixed wing multi-engine — 9 seats / 2 engines)

Owner: Southeast Aviation, LLC | Oxford, MS, US

Serial number: LJ-1156

Fuel capacity: 3,149 pounds (at least five hours of fuel at max speed)

Police approximate that the plane took off between 5-5:30 a.m.

UPDATE (7:56 a.m.):

Police are closing all roads on the west side of Tupelo. 

Original Story:

Police are working to keep the public safe after the pilot of an airplane flying over Tupelo phoned in a threat early this morning.

At approximately 5 a.m. on Sept. 3, the pilot made contact with E911 and threatened to intentionally crash into Walmart on West Main Street. 

The Tupelo Police Department has worked with Walmart and nearby the Dodge’s convenience store to evacuate customers and disperse those people as practically as possible. TPD has also been in talking directly with the pilot.

According to law enforcement, the plane is believed to be stolen.

The situation is ongoing as TPD and all Emergency Services remain alert.

Citizens are asked to avoid that area until the all clear is given. With the mobility of an airplane, the danger zone for this type of incident is much larger than Tupelo.

More information will be released when it’s available. 

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