A “suicidal” airline worker stole an empty Alaska Airlines plane from a Seattle airport and performed stunts while being chased through the sky before crashing near a small island.
Video footage taken by witnesses shows the plane flying low over houses while being pursued by two military fighter jets.
The 29-year-old man told air traffic controllers he was "just a broken guy" as he flew the Horizon Air Q400 he had stolen from Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington state.
The plane crashed into woodland near Ketron Island, south west of Tacoma, Washington.
There were no passengers aboard and the pilot is believed dead with his body yet to be found.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said the crash occurred because the pilot was “doing stunts in the air or lack of flying skills”.
Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon.
Those employees direct aircraft for take-off and gate approach and de-ice planes.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, tweeted the man was suicidal and there was no connection to terrorism.
Mr Troyer said F-15 aircraft scrambled out of Portland, Oregon, and were in the air “within a few minutes” and the pilots kept “people on the ground safe”.
The aircraft was stolen at about 8pm, Alaska Airlines said it was in a “maintenance position” and not scheduled for a passenger flight.
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the man “did something foolish and may well have paid with his life”.
The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy”.
An air traffic controller called the man “Rich”, and tried to convince the man to land the plane.
"There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile," the controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there," the man responded, later adding "This is probably jail time for life, huh?"
Later the man said: "I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this…Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess."
Flights out of Sea-Tac, the largest commercial airport in the Pacific Northwest, were temporarily grounded during the drama.