Austin, February 19: A software engineer furious with the Internal Revenue Service crashed his small plane into an office building housing nearly 200 federal tax employees on Thursday, officials said, setting off a raging fire that sent workers fleeing as thick plumes of black smoke poured into the air.
A U.S. law official identified the pilot as Joseph Stack and said investigators were looking at an anti-government message on the Web linked to him. The Website outlines problems with the IRS and says violence “is the only answer.”
Federal law enforcement officials have said they were investigating whether the pilot, who is presumed to have died in the crash, slammed into the Austin building on purpose in an effort to blow up IRS offices. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
“Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer,” the long note on Stack’s Website reads, citing past problems with the tax-collecting agency.
“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 note, dated Thursday, reads.
At least one person who worked in the building was unaccounted for and two people were hospitalised, said Austin Fire Department Division Chief Dawn Clopton. She did not have any information about the pilot. About 190 IRS employees work in the building, and IRS spokesman Richard C. Sanford the agency is trying to account for all of its workers.
After the low-flying plane crashed into the building, flames shot out, windows exploded and workers scrambled to safety. Thick smoke billowed out of the second and third stories hours later as fire crews battled the blaze.
In a neighbourhood about 10 km from the crash site, a home listed as belonging to Stack was on fire earlier Thursday. Two law enforcement officials said Stack had apparently set fire to his home before the suicidal plane flight.
Elbert Hutchins, who lives one house away from the house on a quiet, tree-lined middle class neighbourhood, said the house caught fire about 9.15 am. He said a woman and her teenage daughter drove up to the house before firefighters arrived.
“They both were very, very distraught,” said Mr. Hutchins, a retiree who said he didn’t know the family well. “ “‘That’s our house!’ they cried ‘That’s our house!’”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the agency confirmed the plane took off from an airport in Georgetown, Texas, and the pilot didn’t file a flight plan.
Gerry Cullen, 66, was eating breakfast a restaurant across the street when the plane struck the building.