The plane was still airborne about four hours later, but had flown away from Tupelo and was circling over another nearby community.
TUPELO, Miss — A stolen plane circled over northern Mississippi on Saturday morning, and police said they evacuated a Walmart store after the pilot threatened to crash into it.
The Tupelo Police Department said in a Facebook post that the Walmart and a nearby supermarket had been evacuated. The plane began circling over Tupelo, Mississippi, around 5 a.m. It was still aloft about four hours later, but had flown away from Tupelo and was circling over another community nearby.
Police said they contacted the pilot directly.
“Citizens are asked to avoid this area until the all clear is given,” police wrote. “With the mobility of an aircraft of this type, the danger zone is much larger than even Tupelo.”
Law enforcement told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal just after 8 a.m. that the stolen plane had departed the airspace around Tupelo and was flying near a Toyota manufacturing facility in nearby Blue Springs.
Authorities believe the plane was stolen and are working to determine if the pilot threatening to crash the plane is an employee at a local airport, two people briefed on the matter told The Associated Press . Several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, are now involved in the investigation and are working to identify a motive, the people said.
Investigators continued to monitor the flight path and were in touch with the pilot, the people said.
An online flight tracking service showed a looping path for the plane.
“State law enforcement and emergency managers are closely monitoring this dangerous situation.” Governor Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter. “All citizens should be vigilant and aware of news from the Tupelo Police Department.”
Leslie Criss, a magazine editor who lives in Tupelo, woke up early and observed the situation on TV and social media. Some of her friends stood outside and watched as the plane circled overhead.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in this city,” Criss told The Associated Press. “It’s a scary way to wake up on a Saturday morning.”
Former State Assemblyman Steve Holland, a funeral director in Tupelo, said he’s had calls from families concerned about the plane.
“One called and said, ‘Oh my god, do we have to cancel the mother’s funeral?'” Holland said. “I just told them, ‘No, life goes on.'”
A Walmart spokesman confirmed the evacuation Saturday morning and said it was working closely with investigators.
This is an evolving story. Val Lick contributed to this.
https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/tupelo-airplane/507-e1525b4e-de90-4f97-9f8d-40e87ba576f6 Police: Pilot threatened to crash into Tupelo Walmart