Video, police reports shed little light on pilot’s aim in swiping empty plane
SkyWest jet that fugitive tried to steal in St. George, Utah. July 17, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Dramatic surveillance camera video shows a Skywest pilot running to a jet that, once set in motion, clips an airport building in last July’s bizarre incident involving pilot Brian J. Hedglin, who stole the plane while being sought on suspicion that he had killed his former girlfriend.
Hedglin, 40, set the empty regional jet in motion on the tarmac of the closed airport, and then killed himself with a gunshot to the head, officials concluded.
But investigators were not able to answer several questions that have confounded people since the July 18 incident, including whether Hedglin intended to take off in the plane, and if so, what he intended to do with it.
“The answer to that is ‘We’ll never know,’” said St. George, Utah, city spokesman Marc Mortensen.
Police reports released in recent days, however, leave open the possibility that Hedglin intended to take off in the aircraft. But he may have been foiled when a safety clip on the landing gear was damaged, leaving him unable to steer the plane on the ground.
The plane rolled a short distance, its wing clipping the terminal building, before crashing through a fence and ramming into a half-dozen cars. Evidence indicates that while the plane was in motion, Hedglin left the cockpit, entered the cabin and shot himself in the head.
Authorities in St. George, Utah, released the surveillance video this week.
Had Hedglin gotten the plane aloft at St. George Municipal Airport, the regional jet — a CRJ 200 — contained enough fuel to fly for about 50 minutes, according to the police report.
A cockpit voice recorder did not provide much information to investigators, the police reports say. The recorder contains only the voices of pilots who flew a previous flight, and sounds of “some rustling in the cockpit and heaving breathing that is assumed to be Brian Hedglin.”
“What his ultimate motive is is really unclear,” Mortensen said. “I’m not going to speculate, but obviously he was intending to take the plane off or he was trying to cause as much damage as possible.”
Hedglin had been a pilot with the airline since 2005.
Police who were among the first at the crash site described a bizarre and confusing scene. The plane was tilted forward, its nose gear collapsed. The engines were still screaming and several cars were wedged under and around the wings. The plane’s doors were shut and there was no indication that anyone was on the aircraft.
When a firefighter told police that someone was on the plane, officers entered with guns drawn and found Hedglin, wearing a green jump suit, lying in the aisle with a gun near his feet.
Police soon learned the identity of the man, and found out that he was a suspect in his former girlfriend’s murder and that he had military experience — two factors that prompted them to send a bomb squad on a thorough search of the plane. No bomb was found.
Hedglin’s former girlfriend, Christina Cornejo, 39, had been found dead the previous Friday in Colorado Springs. Both Hedglin and Cornejo had served in the Colorado Army National Guard, officials said.
Cornejo was found at Hedglin’s residence, but authorities don’t know whether she went there voluntarily or was abducted, Colorado Springs Police spokeswoman Barbara A. Miller told CNN at the time. A coroner said Cornejo died of multiple stab wounds.
Hedglin was immediately identified as a suspect.
“Detectives went so far as to contact SkyWest and have them deactivate Mr. Hedglin’s access cards in the event he showed up there,” police said.
Hedglin’s motorcycle was found outside the St. George airport, and authorities say they believe he used a rug to climb over the airport’s barbed wire fence.
The FBI declined any update on the investigation.
“Although the FBI responded to the incident in St. George this past summer, at this point we are not making any further comments on the matter,” said spokeswoman Debbie Bertram.