April 7, 2009 / 2:48 AM / 11 years ago

U.S. fighter jets scrambled to intercept stolen plane

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A pilot stole a small airplane in Canada on Monday and headed south, forcing U.S. military officials to scramble F-16 fighter jets to trail him, before landing on a highway in Missouri and fleeing on foot.

The pilot was captured and arrested by Missouri State Troopers a short time after landing the Cessna 172, news reports said.

Lt. Commander Gary Ross of the North American Aerospace Defense Command said the plane was not believed to be a terrorist threat nor a threat to civilians. Still, the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, was evacuated as a precaution while the plane was in its area.

The incident started at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about 785 miles north of where the pilot eventually landed near Piedmont, Missouri.

“Apparently somebody jumped over the fence and just jumped into an aircraft,” Confederation College Vice President Judi Maundrell said. “It was sitting as usual parked on the ramp. The keys are in all the aircraft because students are using them.”

Only the pilot, who was not immediately identified, was believed aboard the plane.

The F-16s intercepted the Cessna at about 3:30 p.m. EDTand shadowed it for about seven hours over Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri until it landed on the highway near Piedmont, NORAD said. CNN reported the pilot ran away after landing.

The pilot acknowledged the trailing fighters early on but did not respond to non-verbal commands, Ross said in a telephone interview.

“The pilot was not talking to us at all,” Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

Ross said the Cessna 172 was a “long-range variant” and that it was fully fueled when it left Canada and capable of flying for about seven hours without refueling.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Bill Trott

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