AUSTIN, Texas – A man apparently upset with the Internal Revenue Service set fire to his home, got into a small plane and crashed it Thursday into a multistory office building, authorities said.
At least two people were injured and a third was unaccounted for. The crash caused a fire and sent black smoke billowing from the seven-story Echelon Building.
Officials told The Associated Press that authorities were trying to determine if the pilot intentionally targeted nearby office space of the IRS. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.
Another official said authorities were pursuing reports that the pilot had a long-running dispute with the IRS.
The man was identified as Joseph Stack, officials confirmed to NBC News.
A senior law enforcement official told NBC’s Pete Williams the saga began Thursday morning, when police received a domestic disturbance call at Stack’s house. When they responded, they discovered that the man had lit a fire in his house and fled. They said he went to the Georgetown Municipal Airport about 30 miles north of the crash site, got into a small plane and took off.
A short time later, the plane crashed into the office building. Federal officials said they did not know whether the man crashed the plane intentionally, though they said it was a distinct possibility, the official told NBC.
As a precaution, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command launched two F-16 aircraft from Houston’s Ellington Field to patrol over the crash area.
The Echelon Building is next to a major highway in north Austin, and the crash started fires on several floors of the building.
Dozens of windows were blown out of the hulking black building and vehicles traveling on a nearby highway paused to look.
Authorities were conducting a roll call to try to account for all the workers who were in the building.
Two people were taken to a hospital, Austin Assistant Fire Chief Harry Evans said. The nature and severity of their injuries weren’t immediately clear. A third person was unaccounted for, Evans said. It was not immediately known if the victims were from the plane or the office building.
In one instance, he says: “That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0. It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naive I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their “freedom” … and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them.”
He also wrote: “Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?
“I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”
The IRS, CIA and FBI all have offices in the complex where the building that was struck is located, though it was not clear if they are all in the building that was hit.
The IRS Web site said an office of its EP Team Audit Program is located in the building where the plane crashed. The group, known as EPTA, examines employee benefit plans with 2,500 or more participants, according to the Web site.
The FBI said its office was not in the building.
FBI sources told the Austin Statesman-American that several witness accounts saying that the plane did not slow down made some authorities wonder if it was an intentional act.
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was briefed on the crash. The Homeland Security Department was investigating all angles but the case does not appear to be terrorism, Gibbs said.
Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who works in the building, said she was sitting at her desk when the plane crashed.
“It felt like a bomb blew off. The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran,” she said.
Matt Farney, 39, who was in the parking lot of a nearby Home Depot, said he saw a low-flying private plane near some apartments and the office building just before it crashed.
“I figured he was going to buzz the apartments or he was showing off,” Farney said, adding that the plane dipped down. “It was a ball of flames that was high or higher than the apartments. It was surreal. It was insane. … It didn’t look like he was out of control or anything.”
A witness who described himself as a small-aircraft pilot told KXAN-TV that he witnessed the accident from the parking lot of a nearby restaurant.
“It was really low,” he said. “He brushed along a parking lot light … (and) shot right across the road. It was going really fast. … It sounded like the engine was on full blast. Then it whacked in-between the first and second floor.”
Tucker Thurman was driving to work when he said he saw a small plane flying very low over the highway. He said he saw it then bank heavily to the right before heading into the building.
“There was a huge fireball. It’s right into the building,” Thurman told the Austin Statesman.
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