MO highway landing ends cross-Canadian-U.S. flight, security scare

| 4/7/2009

A 31-year-old Turkish man reportedly stole a Cessna 172 single-engine plane from a Canadian flight school on Monday. He spent about six hours flying before landing on a rural highway and being taken into custody in southern Missouri.

The flight was tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which sent Wisconsin Air National Guardsmen in planes to intercept the four-passenger Cessna plane.

Adam Dylan Leon, a naturalized citizen of Canada, reportedly didn’t respond to radio calls and other signals, and was arrested around 9:30 p.m. near Ellsinore, MO – about six hours after leaving Canada.

The unusual flight prompted Wisconsin state officials to evacuate the state capital in Madison after 5 p.m.

One Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman said Leon landed in traffic lanes and came to rest on Missouri Route FF six miles west of Ellsinore, MO in Carter County.

“There is some question as to if he landed there, or whether he landed on U.S. 60 and taxied over,” Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Marty Elmore told Land Line.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a local charge, but I think his biggest issues are going to be violations of federal law related to unlawful flight and possession of aircraft,” Elmore said.

Elmore said he couldn’t verify several published reports that Leon was suicidal. The Associated Press reported that Leon said he was suicidal and wanted to die by having the plane shot down.

A motorist saw Leon near the plane and offered him a ride. Leon was dropped off at a convenience store about three miles away, Elmore said.

Officers found Leon inside the convenience store, sipping a Gatorade.

“He was arrested without incident,” Elmore said. “His demeanor was not combative. He was pretty calm.”

Early Tuesday, law enforcement officials weren’t sure who reported the highway landing. State troopers were glad no one was injured and the plane didn’t crash, Elmore said.

Highway plane landings are rare but not unheard of in Missouri, Elmore told Land Line.

“This is definitely the first time something like this has happened in recent history,” he said. “It’s certainly not something that happens every day.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer