Update: Texas plane crash a “criminal act”

SideBar:
Pilot Left Suicide Note

A Federal Aviation Administration
spokesman said the crash involving a plane that flew into an Austin, Texas
office building Thursday morning was “apparently a criminal act” and that in
such a case the FBI would be the lead investigating agency rather than the
National Transportation Safety Administration.

“The NTSB investigates accidents,”
said Paul Turk, assistant director of public affairs for the FAA.

Turk could not confirm that the
plane that hit the building belonged to Joseph Andrew Stack, the private plane
pilot whose nearby home was on fire at roughly the same time.

“We don’t have a tail number for
the aircraft involved,” Turk said.

The pilot of the plane that crashed
did not file a flight plan or, as far as FAA officials know at this time, have
any other contact with the agency.

Austin police say a plane has crashed into a building
in the 9400 block of Research
Boulevard.

Austin-Travis
County EMS Assistant Director James Shamard said smoke is visible for at least
a mile and that paramedics have set up a triage center at the scene. “We have
no idea right now if there are any patients, or how many.”

EMS officials
said it was a seven-story building and that two people were unaccounted for. A
witness said it was the Echelon I building.

According to
an FBI agent who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to
release information, the incident is being investigated as an accident,
although eyewitnesses said the plane seemed to come in at full throttle. He
said the plane was out of Waco
and that Federal Aviation Administration officials are en route to the scene.

An FBI
official said it was believed the plane had come from Waco, and that witnesses said it had hit the
building at full-throttle.

Tucker Thurman
was driving to work on the U.S. 183 flyover near MoPac Boulevard (Loop
1) when he said he saw a small plane, very low, flying over the highway. He
said he saw it then bank heavily to the right before heading into the building.

“There was a
huge fireball. It went right into the building,” Thurman said.

EMS officials
said they have taken at least two patients to the hospital, but that there are
several “walking wounded” at the scene.

Fire Chief
Rhoda Mae Kerr said that the department has gone into a “defensive position,”
meaning that firefighters have been ordered to retreat from the building
because of the danger.

Fire
department officials said EMS has begun taking
people to University Medical Center Brackenridge.

Cayce Watkins, a server at the
Marie Callender’s restaurant at 9503
Research Boulevard across 183 from where the plane
crashed, said: “It rattled our windows.”

Watkins said employees heard the
roar of the plane and then a boom.

“There was a loud boom, and our
windows, our entire building shook,” said Darla LaTour, an operations manager
at the Candlewood Suites Extended Stay Hotel, which is about a quarter-mile
from the accident site. “When we got out there already were sirens coming.”

Mischelle Diaz, a spokeswoman for
St. Edward’s University, said the plane hit a building in the Echelon business
complex next to a building where the university’s Professional Education
Center provides software
training and teaches some graduate students. She said the education center has
been evacuated and that university officials were trying to confirm that students
and instructors all got out safely.

“We’re just desperately trying to
get some information,” Diaz said.

Stuart Newberg was at a nearby
Lexus dealership shortly before 10 a.m. when he said he saw a plane flying low
and fast overhead.

“It was flying low and fast and I
did a double take. I thought it was a play remote control plane. Then i saw the
smoke,” Newberg said.

When asked if the plane seemed to
be out of control, he said it seemed “very controlled.”

PLANE STORY

A picture of the Thursday morning plane crash from northwest Austin in central Texas, USA.
Austin-American Statesman

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