Rogue Cessna pilot wanted to be shot down

April 7, 2009 5:42:45 AM PDT
The Canadian man wholed fighter jets on a chase across six states yesterday flew his stolen plane into the U.S. in hopes the military would shoot him down and kill him, according to a Missouri state trooper who apprehended the rogue pilot. Missouri State Trooper Justin Watson told "Good Morning America" that 31-year-old Yavuz Berke, formerly known as Adam Leon, wanted to commit suicide, but didn't have the courage to do it himself.

"His idea was to fly the aircraft into the United States where he would be shot down," Watson said. "He stated several times that at any time he thought he was going to be shot down."

And he came close several times, Watson said.

Instead, Berke landed the single-engine Cessna 172 on U.S. Highway 60 in Ellsinore, Mo., at 9:50 p.m. ET. He made his way to a local convenience store where a clerk noticed him and called police, who found him drinking Gatorade, seemingly relieved that his ordeal was over.

"He actually seemed fairly happy that it came to a good end," Watson said. "He didn't seem to be down in spirits or anything like that."

The U.S. military decided early on that Berke, a naturalized Canadian citizen who was born in Turkey, did not have any terroristic intentions, but was unclear at the time exactly what his plans were. As he flew over Madison, Wis., the state capitol building was evacuated as a precaution.

A NORAD spokesman has said that the pilot knew the F-16s were off his wing, but did not respond despite repeated attempts to reach him on every frequency possible.

"If the answer was no, then there wasn't any reason to blow him out of the sky," ABC News Aviation Analyst Jim Nance told "Good Morning America," "although I'm sure they had the capability."

Watson said Berke is now in a Missouri jail and has told police that he had been hospitalized for psychological problems.

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.

Tracking the Rogue Pilot

The plane entered American airspace over Michigan's Upper Peninsula at 4:23 p.m. ET Monday and was trailed by the military aircraft since 4:43 p.m. as it flew over Minnesota, south through Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.

The plane was stolen from Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and was flown out of Thunder Bay International Airport at 2:55 p.m.

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 ... not in contact with the FAA controllers," Kucharek said.

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.

"It had opportunities to go into heavily populated areas," a government official said, adding that It appeared to veer around, "not going to urban air space."


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