Stolen Cessna’s Pilot Captured

Pierre Thomas and Luis Martinez, ABC News, April 6, 2009

A pilot who allegedly stole a Cessna plane from a Canadian flight school and was pursued for hours across the Midwest by fighter jets, was taken into custody after he landed on a Missouri highway late today and took off running, an FBI spokesman said.

The pilot landed the single engine Cessna 172 on U.S. Highway 60 in Ellsinore, Mo., at approximately 9:50 p.m. ET, and was caught by Missouri State Highway Patrol officers, FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said.

The pilot was identified as Yavuz Berke, formerly known as Adam Leon, a 31-year-old naturalized Canadian citizen who was born in Turkey, Kolko said.

The plane had been escorted by two F-16 fighter jets since shortly after it crossed into U.S. airspace from Canada, and the pilot did not respond to multiple requests that he establish communications with ground controllers.

Burke was apparently treated for depression last Friday and left his girlfriend a good-bye note, Canadian officials told the U.S. government. Berke’s vehicle was left at the airport in Canada with the keys still in it.

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NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said the F-16 pilots had made visual contact with the pilot and knew that the person flying the Cessna was aware that the F-16s were there. He was “unresponsive to their non-verbal directions and .&nsbp;. . not in contact with the FAA controllers,” Kucharek said.

FAA officials also said the Cessna’s pilot did not respond to repeated efforts to hail him on all radio frequencies.

It was thought the fighter jets might have to shoot down the aircraft if it showed hostile intent, Kucharek told ABC News.

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Kucharek said it costs roughly $50,000 per hour/per jet to scramble F-16s. From the time the plane was initially intercepted over Lake Superior near the Michigan upper peninsula until it landed on the Missouri highway, it was followed by two F-16s for more than five hours–a likely tab of $500,000.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was flying for a while at 14,500 feet. Over 10,000 feet the air is quite thin and commercial planes would be pressurized, but the Cessna 172 is not. As a result, the pilot might have suffered from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which could have lead to confusion.

The plane later dropped its altitude to 3,700 feet, where there is more oxygen.

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