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Officials Probe Austin Plane Crash


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

An apparent suicide attack - that's the word in Austin, Texas, as investigators try to find out more about the man who slammed a small, single-engine plane into an office building today. The pilot died in the crash, and he left behind an angry suicidal rant against the Internal Revenue Service. The agency had offices in the building and was the apparent target. Lisa Alexander works for the IRS. She describes what happed after the plane hit.

Ms. LISA ALEXANDER: As soon as we opened the door, a bunch of smoke and heat came into our room and it was about six of us, if not a little bit more. And we kind of found our evacuation out of the glass windows.

SIEGEL: The pilot has been identified as 53-year-old Joseph Stack, a software engineer. The FBI is now looking into a Web site that Stack owned containing what appears to be his suicide note.

NPR's John Burnett joins us now from Austin with the latest. And John, let's start first with what happened when. What do you know so far?

JOHN BURNETT: Robert, it was about 9 o'clock this morning, local time, Joseph Stack first sets his brick house on fire. It's in a middle class tree-lined neighborhood in North Austin. Then he drives to Georgetown Airport about 30 miles north of Austin. And he gets in a white Piper Cherokee single engine. And then he - it's beautiful flying weather this morning: sunny, cloudless morning in Austin. He flies directly south about 20 miles.

And at 10 a.m. witnesses say they see a small, white single-engine plane flying low over this heavy commercial retail district of Northwest Austin. It banks right and crashes directly into the southeast face of the Echelon office building, bursts into a ball of fire, destroys the southeast face of the building. The fire is intense, clouds of black smoke into the sky, traffic stops on the highway, workers are coming out of buildings around staring at this conflagration. The Pentagon scrambles two F-16 fighter jets in Houston before it becomes clear that this was the work of a lone pilot.

SIEGEL: Now, the lone pilot, Mr. Stack, is connected to a Web site that contains a rant against the Internal Revenue Service. Sounds like a suicide note. What does it say?

BURNETT: Well, it's a manifesto and it begins - it's been taken down by the FBI now, but it starts out: If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, why did this have to happen? It goes on, he describes, a storm raging in my head, desperate times call for desperate measures. Violence is the only answer. It concludes: Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different. Take my pound of flesh and sleep well. And then he signs off: Joe Stack 1956 to 2010.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Now, he died in the crash.


SIEGEL: But a suicidal airplane crash into a building is not just suicidal, it's also potentially murderous. What do we know about other casualties?

BURNETT: Well, it could've been so much worse. There were as many as 200 people working in this building that the top three of the four-storey building were occupied by the IRS. And yet officials say that there were only three casualties in the building, two seriously burned and one person is still unaccounted for.

SIEGEL: You talked with Joseph Stacks' neighbors today, I gather?

BURNETT: That's right. And they talk about still sort of a mystery man that, you know, he didn't mix with his neighbors very much at all. Most of what they learned about him was this morning at 9 o'clock when the fire went up and his wife and their daughter, who they estimate to be about 12 years old, were distraught and screaming and went running into a neighbor's house. So, they -apparently they did survive the fire.

SIEGEL: Thank you, John.

BURNETT: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's John Burnett reporting from Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.