Small plane that made unauthorized takeoff lands safely in Va.
The Associated Press
9:31 PM EDT, August 18, 2008
ROANOKE, Va. – A small plane that made an unauthorized takeoff and circled in western Virginia for four hours — prompting the voluntary evacuation of a shopping center — landed this afternoon without incident at Roanoke Regional Airport.
Airport spokeswoman Sherry Wallace said the pilot ran from authorities and jumped a fence, but was apprehended quickly by FBI agents. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation, she said.
Authorities agreed not to release the pilot’s identity in exchange for his safe return, Roanoke police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson said. Franklin County Administrator Rick Huff described him as a 50-year-old retired air traffic controller and licensed pilot.
Dialogue between the airport tower and the pilot indicated he may have intended to take his life, Johnson said in a news release. Huff said law enforcement officers worked to talk him down.
Authorities asked business owners to evacuate Bridgewater Plaza, a strip shopping center near Smith Mountain Lake, as the single-engine Cessna 172 circled the area.
The plane landed safely about 2:45 p.m, according to Wallace. It had taken off shortly before 11 a.m. at the Roanoke airport.
Law enforcement officials from Franklin, Bedford and Pittsylvania counties mobilized in the area, along with fire and rescue personnel.
No charges have been filed, but the Federal Aviation Administration will review the flight protocol.