Official: Austin Plane Crash Into IRS Building ‘A Criminal Act’; Pilot's Suicide Note

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the Austin American-Statesman

Official: Austin Plane Crash Into IRS Building ‘A Criminal Act’; Pilot's Suicide Note

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Smoke billows from a seven-story building after a small private plane crashed into the building in Austin, Texas on Thursday Feb. 18, 2010.

See also: Suicide Note Posted by Man Linked to Austin IRS Plane Crash

AUSTIN, Texas -- A plane crashed into a Northwest Austin building that houses federal offices about 9:30 this morning, injuring several people and sending plumes of smoke into the air that could be seen for miles.

Mathilda Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Seton Family of Hospitals, said University Medical Center Brackenridge received two patients, and that no other hospitals had received any.

CNN is quoting federal officials as saying the pilot had set his home ablaze before intentionally crashing plane into the building.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the crash was "apparently a criminal act" and that in such a case the FBI would be the lead investigating agency rather than the National Transportation Safety Administration.

"The NTSB investigates accidents," said Paul Turk, assistant director of public affairs for the FAA.

The tail number of the Piper Cherokee plane that crashed into the building is the same as the number that is registered to a plane owned by Joseph Andrew Stack, a federal official confirmed for the Statesman.

Stack, whose nearby home was on fire at roughly the same time, is a private plane owner.

The pilot of the plane that crashed did not file a flight plan or, as far as FAA officials know at this time, have any other contact with the agency.

Paramedics have set up a triage center at the scene, though it is unclear how many people are injured. EMS officials said one person was unaccounted for.

"We have no idea right now if there are any patients, or how many," Austin-Travis County EMS Assistant Director James Shamard said.

The Internal Revenue Service has offices in the building, including its civil enforcement and criminal investigations divisions, said Special Agent Michael Lemoine, a spokesman for the criminal investigations division.

He said that some IRS offices are on the first floor, which Lemoine said was hit by the plane.

He said that the criminal investigations division personnel are safe and accounted for. He did not have information on the civil division workers, who conduct audits and other activity at the offices
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According to an FBI agent who asked not to be identified because he isn't authorized to release information, the incident is being investigated as an accident, although eyewitnesses said the plane seemed to come in at full throttle. He said the plane was out of Waco and that Federal Aviation Administration officials are en route to the scene.

FBI sources said that the eyewitness accounts saying that the plane did not slow down is making some authorities wonder if it was an intentional act.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the building hit by a plane at the Echelon office complex did not contain an FBI office. While the FBI has an office at the complex, the plane did not crash into that particular building, Carter said.

"At this time we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to criminal or terrorist activity," Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told CNN. "We are in the process of coordinating with state officials and other federal partners to gather more information and at this time we will defer additional questions to local officials and the FAA."

William Winnie, an Internal Revenue Service agent, said 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. He said 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."

Mischelle Diaz, a spokeswoman for St. Edward's University, said the plane hit a building in the Echelon business complex next to a building where the university's Professional Education Center provides software training and teaches some graduate students. She said the education center has been evacuated and that university officials were trying to confirm that students and instructors all got out safely.

"We're just desperately trying to get some information," Diaz said.

The American Red Cross of Central Texas will be providing food and water to the firefighters and investigators at the crash site, said spokeswoman Marty McKellips. They are also calling in mental health professionals to tend to crash survivors. Many people are shaken up and there are still some people missing, she said.

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