Officials Probe Austin Plane Crash
Officials Probe Austin Plane Crash
In Austin, Texas, a small private plane crashed into a federal office building that housed Internal Revenue Service workers. Initial reports indicate the pilot hated the IRS and may have crashed the plane intentionally.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
An apparent suicide attack - that's the word in Austin, Texas, as investigators try to find out more about the man who slammed a small, single-engine plane into an office building today. The pilot died in the crash, and he left behind an angry suicidal rant against the Internal Revenue Service. The agency had offices in the building and was the apparent target. Lisa Alexander works for the IRS. She describes what happed after the plane hit.
Ms. LISA ALEXANDER: As soon as we opened the door, a bunch of smoke and heat came into our room and it was about six of us, if not a little bit more. And we kind of found our evacuation out of the glass windows.
SIEGEL: The pilot has been identified as 53-year-old Joseph Stack, a software engineer. The FBI is now looking into a Web site that Stack owned containing what appears to be his suicide note.
NPR's John Burnett joins us now from Austin with the latest. And John, let's start first with what happened when. What do you know so far?
JOHN BURNETT: Robert, it was about 9 o'clock this morning, local time, Joseph Stack first sets his brick house on fire. It's in a middle class tree-lined neighborhood in North Austin. Then he drives to Georgetown Airport about 30 miles north of Austin. And he gets in a white Piper Cherokee single engine. And then he - it's beautiful flying weather this morning: sunny, cloudless morning in Austin. He flies directly south about 20 miles.
And at 10 a.m. witnesses say they see a small, white single-engine plane flying low over this heavy commercial retail district of Northwest Austin. It banks right and crashes directly into the southeast face of the Echelon office building, bursts into a ball of fire, destroys the southeast face of the building. The fire is intense, clouds of black smoke into the sky, traffic stops on the highway, workers are coming out of buildings around staring at this conflagration. The Pentagon scrambles two F-16 fighter jets in Houston before it becomes clear that this was the work of a lone pilot.
SIEGEL: Now, the lone pilot, Mr. Stack, is connected to a Web site that contains a rant against the Internal Revenue Service. Sounds like a suicide note. What does it say?
BURNETT: Well, it's a manifesto and it begins - it's been taken down by the FBI now, but it starts out: If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, why did this have to happen? It goes on, he describes, a storm raging in my head, desperate times call for desperate measures. Violence is the only answer. It concludes: Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different. Take my pound of flesh and sleep well. And then he signs off: Joe Stack 1956 to 2010.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Now, he died in the crash.
SIEGEL: But a suicidal airplane crash into a building is not just suicidal, it's also potentially murderous. What do we know about other casualties?
BURNETT: Well, it could've been so much worse. There were as many as 200 people working in this building that the top three of the four-storey building were occupied by the IRS. And yet officials say that there were only three casualties in the building, two seriously burned and one person is still unaccounted for.
SIEGEL: You talked with Joseph Stacks' neighbors today, I gather?
BURNETT: That's right. And they talk about still sort of a mystery man that, you know, he didn't mix with his neighbors very much at all. Most of what they learned about him was this morning at 9 o'clock when the fire went up and his wife and their daughter, who they estimate to be about 12 years old, were distraught and screaming and went running into a neighbor's house. So, they -apparently they did survive the fire.
SIEGEL: Thank you, John.
BURNETT: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's John Burnett reporting from Austin.
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Plane Crashes Into IRS Office In Texas
The pilot of a single-engine plane crashed into a building in Austin, Texas, that houses offices of the Internal Revenue Service, setting off a massive blaze Thursday.
Emergency crews found two bodies in the wreckage Thursday night, and Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck said that authorities "have now accounted for everybody." He declined to discuss the identities of those found.
Authorities said earlier that the pilot who crashed into the building, identified as A. Joseph Stack III, was presumed dead and that one office worker had not been located. At least 13 people were injured, with two reported in critical condition.
Authorities said Stack, 53, was a software engineer who apparently had some tax problems. He owned a single-engine Piper Cherokee, and his northwest Austin home was set on fire before the crash.
Stack's neighbors described him as a mystery man, NPR's John Burnett reported.
"He didn't mix with his neighbors very much at all," Burnett said. "Most of what they learned about him was this morning at 9 o'clock when the fire went up, and his wife and their daughter, who they estimate to be about 12 years old, were distraught and screaming and went into a neighbor's house."
Investigators were looking closely at a posting on a Web site registered to a Joe Stack of San Marcos, Texas, that contained a lengthy, self-described "rant" attacking the federal tax system as unfair.
NPR could not independently confirm the authorship of the Web post.
The post portrays an America that is divided between corrupt individuals who are powerful enough to make tax laws and governmental functions work in their favor and people who have become victims of the system.
The wandering diatribe concludes that violence "is the only answer."
"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 read.
It was signed, "Joe Stack (1956-2010)."
The Web site was later taken down by the host company, with a note stating that it had been done "due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas this morning and in compliance with a request from the FBI."
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said an investigator from the board's Dallas office has been dispatched to the scene of the accident.
Stack's plane took off Thursday from the airport in Georgetown, Texas, and was flying under rules that did not require the pilot to maintain contact with air controllers. He did not file a flight plan.
Witnesses reported that the plane seemed to have been flown deliberately into the first floor of the Echelon 1 Building in northwest Austin. The building mostly houses IRS offices, according to Kathi Hall of KVSA Asset Management, which manages the property.
About 190 IRS employees work in the building, and IRS spokesman Richard C. Sanford said the agency was trying to account for all employees.
The crash sent workers fleeing as ceilings crumbled, windows shattered and flames shot out of the building. Thick black and gray smoke was billowing out of the second and third stories of the building as fire crews using ladder trucks and hoses battled the blaze. Dozens of windows were blown out.
The Austin American-Statesman newspaper quoted IRS agent William Winnie as saying he was in a training session on the third floor of the building when he saw a light-colored, single-engine plane coming at the building.
"It looked like it was coming right in my window," Winnie said, adding that the plane veered down and to the left and crashed into the floors below. "I didn't lose my footing, but it was enough to knock people who were sitting to the floor."
As a precaution, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command launched two F-16 aircraft from Houston's Ellington Field to conduct an air patrol over the crash area, an FAA official said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama has been briefed by counterterrorism adviser John Brennan but reiterated that the incident "does not appear" to be terrorism.
From NPR's Scott Neuman, Russell Lewis and Wade Goodwyn, and wire service reports