Pilot wanted to be shot down, trooper says

Adam Leon is accused of stealing a plane from a Canadian flight school.
A man who commandeered a training plane in Canada and led U.S. military aircraft on a seven-hour flight across the Midwest told the officers who found him that he’d hoped he would be shot down, a Missouri state trooper said.

“It was [attempted] suicide,” said Lt. Jeffrey Vitale of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, one of the first five officers at the scene. “He was very talkative. He told us everything that was going on. He was very friendly,” Vitale said. “He hoped to get shot down by our Air Force.” Adam Dylan Leon, also known as Yavuz Berke, stole the Cessna 172 from a flight school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he was enrolled in Confederation College’s Flight Aviation Management program, authorities said. The school said Leon, a Turkish-born Canadian citizen, initially enrolled in 2006 but had been unable to complete the program. He re-enrolled last fall and was considered a good student, passing his solo cross-country flying test last week, the college said. Faculty at the school described Leon, 31, as an excellent student who is personable, mature and very polite. But at 3 p.m. ET Monday, he took off in a stolen plane, apparently intending not to come down alive, according to police. Less than a half-hour after takeoff, he was flying over Lake Superior and into the United States.

Don’t Miss
Multistate plane chase ends on Missouri dirt road

U.S. F-16 fighter jets intercepted Leon near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin and tried repeatedly to draw the pilot’s attention, authorities said. Watch how pilot wasn’t responding » At one point, the pilot appeared to acknowledge that he saw the other planes, said Mike Kucharek, a spokesman with the North American Aerospace Defense Command. But the man did not communicate with either NORAD or the FAA, officials said. Instead, the plane flew “erratically” over the course of the afternoon, Kucharek said, sometimes reaching 14,000 feet in altitude and then dropping as low as 3,000 feet. About 10 p.m. ET, with only about 30 minutes of fuel left, Leon landed the four-seater plane on a dirt road in southern Missouri, parking it under what appeared to be a bridge or culvert — apparently to hide it — a federal law enforcement source said. See a map of the route » Leon fled into the night. Stephanie Reynolds, part owner of the nearby Simmons Grocery and Hardware, said she heard a low-flying plane outside her home. Outside, she could see its lights and another plane “following it, but it was keeping its distance.” The plane circled the area four or five times and appeared to land, she said. Reynolds said her brother, Darin Tanksley, went looking for the plane and found it abandoned. He called the sheriff and volunteered to stay with the plane. The sheriff rejected that idea, worried that the pilot might be armed and still close by. The sheriff’s office told Tanksley that “Homeland Security” was keeping an eye on the plane. In fact, a Customs and Border Protection aircraft was using thermal imaging while flying above. Reynolds said she called the clerks at the store to warn them. “It wasn’t another 20 minutes that [the clerk] called and said, ‘He’s here,’ ” Reynolds said. A motorist had picked the pilot up, given him $2 for food and drink, and brought him to the grocery store, Reynolds said. The clerk reported that the pilot went to the bathroom, bought a Gatorade and sat at a booth. Reynolds said she called the police. “They showed up, and he was still sitting in the booth as if he was waiting,” she said. Vitale, of the Missouri Highway Patrol, said the officers checked Leon for weapons but did not handcuff him as they asked him questions. Leon told the officers that he did not have identification and that no one was with him. “He was pretty cooperative,” Vitale said. “I know he was kind of waiting for us. He was sitting there waiting for us to come and get him, so he was kind of expecting it. “It was pretty bizarre, no doubt about it,” Vitale added. Reynolds said police eventually handcuffed Leon and walked him out. “He had like a smile on his face,” she said. “He didn’t seem to be worried at all.” Missouri state troopers initially took Leon into custody, accusing him of illegally flying into U.S. airspace. He was handed over to U.S. immigration officials Tuesday morning and detained on suspicion of illegally entering the United States, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Confederation College said that as a student, Leon had access to the planes at the airstrip. “We are very relieved that the plane landed safely and that no one was hurt,” college President Patricia Lang said. “Confederation College has offered this program for 35 years without an incident of this nature and prides itself on its excellent faculty.”