Suicide by fighter jet was the goal of a flight student who stole a plane in Canada, entered US airspace and flew an erratic path over the Midwest with the military on his tail before he landed safely on a rural Missouri road, federal authorities said on Tuesday.
Adam Dylan Leon, who was running out of fuel when he landed the plane on Monday night in Ellsinore, Missouri, was charged on Tuesday with transportation of stolen property and illegal entry. The seven-hour flight prompted a brief evacuation of the Wisconsin Capitol and warnings to commercial aircraft over Chicago and other cities, but terrorism is not believed to be a motive.
The federal complaint said Leon told the FBI that he flew the plane into the US expecting to be shot down by military aircraft. The complaint said Leon also told the FBI he “has not felt like himself lately” and he recently was being treated by a psychiatrist.
Leon was jailed in St Louis and does not yet have an attorney.
A background check of Leon, 31, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, showed no connection to terrorism, FBI agent John Gillies said.
Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Leon was born in Turkey with the name Yavuz Berke, moved to Canada and became a naturalized citizen last year.
He would face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, US Attorney Catherine Hanaway said.
The plane was reported stolen on Monday afternoon from Confederation College Flight School. The college said in a statement that the flight was unauthorized but that Leon was enrolled in its program.
The plane was intercepted by F-16 fighters from the Wisconsin National Guard after crossing into the state near the Michigan state line.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper who made the arrest said Leon was almost out of fuel when he picked his landing spot, a hilltop on a former stretch of US60 that is now just a paved loop off the main highway.
“How he avoided the power lines is anyone’s guess,” Trooper Justin Watson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday night. “He stated that he didn’t want to land on the four-lane highway because he was surprised about the amount of traffic on the road.”
From there, Leon apparently hitched a ride to a small convenience store near Ellsinore. Watson said he was surprised at Leon’s response when he approached him in the store to arrest him.
“His statement was he was expecting us and he was the person we were looking for. I expected him to deny any involvement,” Watson said.
During the 48km drive to troop headquarters, Leon volunteered that he had flown into the US because he thought he would be shot down, Watson said.
“Basically, his statement was he wanted to end it all,” Watson said.
But Leon was smiling by the time he was arrested and seemed relieved that he was alive, Watson said.
“He was actually in a little better spirits than I thought he would be for a person who was suicidal,” Watson said. “He seemed to want to talk and for people to know why he had done what he had done.”
He was also hungry. Troopers ordered pizza for him after he said he had gone 24 hours without eating, Watson said.
Marilyn Simmons, owner of the convenience store, worried about terrorism when a relative called to tell her about the plane.
“My husband went and got his guns and gave me one,” Simmons said.