Monday 25 September 2017

Suicide pilot crashes light aircraft into US tax office

Computer worker left anti-government rant on web

Smoke billows from the IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Photo: Getty Images
Smoke billows from the IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Photo: Getty Images

Jim Vertuno in Austin

A software engineer furious with the US taxman ploughed his small plane into an office building housing nearly 200 federal tax employees yesterday, setting off a raging fire that sent workers fleeing as thick plumes of black smoke poured into the air.

Last night investigators were looking at an anti-government message on the internet linked to pilot Joseph Stack. The web message outlines problems with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and says violence "is the only answer".

Federal law enforcement officials have said they were investigating whether the pilot, who is presumed to have died in the crash, slammed into the Austin building on purpose in an effort to blow up IRS offices. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Explosive

"Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer," the long note on Stack's website reads, citing past problems with the tax-collecting agency.

"I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well," the note, dated yesterday, reads.

At least one person who worked in the seven-storey building was unaccounted for and two people were hospitalised, said Austin Fire Department division chief Dawn Clopton. About 190 IRS employees work in the building, and an IRS spokesman said the agency was trying to account for all of its workers.

After the low-flying plane crashed into the building, flames shot out, windows exploded and workers scrambled to safety. Thick smoke billowed out of the second and third stories hours later as fire crews battled the blaze.

Aviation experts expressed shock at the intensity of the flames based on the relatively small amount of fuel the aircraft would have been able to carry, suggesting that Stack may have been carrying some sort of accelerant or explosive on board at the time of impact.

"It felt like a bomb blew off," said Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who was sitting at her desk in the building when the plane crashed.

Police officials said Stack had apparently set fire to his home before the suicidal plane flight.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the agency confirmed the plane took off from an airport in Georgetown, Texas, and the pilot didn't file a flight plan.

Gerry Cullen (66) was eating breakfast in a restaurant across the street when the plane struck the building.

"The airplane hit and vanished in a fireball," said Mr Cullen, a former flight instructor. Matt Farney (39) said he saw a low-flying small plane near some apartments and the office building just before it crashed. Office worker Michelle Santibanez said she felt vibrations after the crash. She and her co-workers ran to the windows, where they saw a scene that reminded them of the 9/11 attacks, she said.

"It was the same kind of scenario with window panels falling out and desks falling out and paperwork flying," said Ms Santibanez.

As a precaution, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defence Command launched two F-16 aircraft from Houston's Ellington Field, and is conducting an air patrol over the crash area.

Irish Independent

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