John Waldron frequently takes walks around Chambers Creek Regional Park near his University Place home.
He often goes down to the beachfront, but he stayed at the top of the park Friday night.
He’d noticed the two fighter jets flying overhead, but the 50-year-old didn’t think anything of it until he saw they were side by side with a passenger plane.
Still, he figured it was just a drill, and the plane would be headed to the Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor. He took out his phone anyway and started shooting video as the plane took a sharp turn.
“All of a sudden, he pulled the stick back and he pulled this thing up into a loop,” Waldron said of the person at the controls of the plane. “Somehow, by the grace of God, he recovered from that, leveled off again and was about 100 feet above the water and headed right at me.”
Waldron started to head for cover when the plane leveled off and turned toward Steilacoom.
To Waldron, the plane was just a speck that banked one last time while approaching Ketron Island.
“I saw the plume of smoke, then a poof of flame, and then I heard the explosion,” he said. “Then it hit me that something was a little off.”
What Waldron and several others atop the bluff had seen was the final minutes and crash of a Horizon Air passenger plane stolen from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by a 29-year-old Pierce County man.
“I was completely speechless,” Waldron said. “A few of us down there, our jaws were hanging open. It’s just not something you see every day.”
After hearing the airline’s explanation of what happened, Waldron said it was “amazing” that a ramp agent could tow a plane onto the runway and take off with it, then keep it in the air and flying for more than an hour.
Once Waldron got home and posted his video to Facebook, he was inundated with notifications and friend requests from people he had never even met.
He was also flooded emotionally after realizing he had filmed the last moments of somebody’s life.
“I don’t want to see another one like that for another 100 years, I’ll tell you that,” he said.