Man steals plane, leads authorities on multistate chase
By Robert Imrie
WAUSAU, Wis. — A man suspected of stealing a plane in Canada and flying erratically across three states was trying to commit suicide, hoping he would be shot down by military fighter planes, a state trooper said Tuesday.
Adam Dylan Leon, 31, was arrested at a convenience store in Ellsinore, Mo., shortly after landing the single-engine, four-seat Cessna on a rural Missouri road Monday night, ending a six-hour flight, police said.
The plane was tracked as a "flight safety issue" and was not believed to be a terrorist threat, Mike Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in a telephone interview from Colorado Springs.
The Missouri state trooper who arrested Leon said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the pilot told him he had hoped to be shot down.
"He made a statement that he was trying to commit suicide and he didn't have the courage to do it himself. And his idea was to fly the aircraft into the United States, where he would be shot down," Trooper Justin Watson said on ABC.
Leon, a naturalized Canadian citizen originally from Turkey, was jailed in Butler County but was moved early Tuesday to the jail in Mississippi County, which holds federal suspects, according to a Butler County jail official. Representatives of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Watson said Leon apparently hitched a ride to the convenience store after landing on a highway and taxiing the plane to a side road. He didn't appear surprised when the officer entered the convenience store to arrest him.
Leon said "he didn't have any ID, but he was the person we were looking for," Watson said.
He said Leon "gave me no indication that it was anything other than he was having personal problems and was in an attempt to end his life."
"He did state that he thought at one time he was getting shot down, but apparently the Air Force were just shooting flares," the trooper said.
Leon was in the Butler County Jail on Tuesday in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
The plane was reported stolen Monday afternoon from Confederation College Flight School at Thunder Bay International Airport in Ontario. It was intercepted by F-16 fighters from the Wisconsin National Guard after crossing into the state near the Michigan state line.
The pilot was flying erratically and didn't communicate with the fighter pilots, Kucharek said at the Aerospace Defense Command.
The pilot acknowledged seeing the F-16s but didn't obey their nonverbal commands to follow them, Kucharek said.
The plane's path over Wisconsin prompted a brief, precautionary evacuation of the Wisconsin capitol in Madison, although there were few workers in the building at the time and the governor was not in town.
The Cessna 172 continued south over Illinois and eastern Missouri before landing near Ellsinore, about 120 miles south-southwest of St. Louis.
The plane landed about six hours after the reported theft, and had enough fuel for about eight hours of flight, NAADC officials said.
"We tailed it all the way," Maj. Brian Markin said. "Once it landed our aircraft returned to base."
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told CNN that Leon was a native of Turkey who changed his name from Yavuz Berke and became a Canadian citizen last year.