Nightly News   |  February 18, 2010

Officials: Plane crash pilot acted alone

A software engineer with an ongoing beef with the Internal Revenue Service apparently launched a suicide attack Thursday morning when he crashed a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

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>>> begins now.

>>> good evening. earlier today it appears a man in austin , texas, vented his ang were an essay on the internet on life, business and government and taxes, then climbed into his small plane and flew it into his office building that housed the local offices of the revenue service. the building exploded into flame the. andrew joseph stack leaves heupel a 3,000-word parting statement in which he says, "desperate times call for desperate measures." he said he had all he could stand. he talked about dying for freedom and took his own life and perhaps one other. our coverage begins with nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: this low flight over austin and the attack on an irs office which nearly 200 people worked sent hundreds running for safety. 13 were injured, two seriously, one of them is still missing and may have been killed. home video captured the first chaotic minutes after the piloted by 53-year-old andrew joseph stack crashed nose-first into the side of a building that housed irs offices. workers struggled to rescue employees.

>> it was woosh and roar and boom. i thought i was going to get hit for a fraction of a second.

>> reporter: the events leading up to the crash actually began about 45 minutes earlier at stack's home in suburban austin , when at 9:18 a.m ., firefighters were called to a house fire.

>> this is a nice row of nicely tree-lined middle class homes. the austin fire department got a call that a home was fully engulfed.

>> neighbors rescued stack's wife and daughter a short time later stack got into his own private plane , a single engine piper cherokee like this one registered to his business address in california. he took off from the georgetown municipal airport and flew the 25 miles from the airport south to the echelon office building just off highway 183 , hitting the building just before 9:56 a.m . jerry cullen, himself a pilot, watched the plane approach the building.

>> it shot right across the road. it was going really fast. those aren't fast airplanes. they cruise about 115. he was sounding as if the engine was on full blast and was a speedy dive.

>> reporter: the question for investigators, was the plane loaded with extra fuel or a bomb?

>> is there a widespread fire right there. i can't believe 40 gallons of aviation fuel would create that kind of fireball over that large area.

>> reporter: pilot stack apparently left behind this online blog ranting against the irs . the first sentence reads, "if you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, why did this have to happen?" investigators suspect he intentionally targeted the irs .

>> what we are seeing is a very disturbed individual that has taken an airplane and made it a weapon.

>> as all this was breaking, the pentagon scrambled two f-16 fighter jets from houston to patrol the skies before it became clear this was the act of a lone pilot. now the ntsb and fbi are knee-deep into this investigation, brian.

>> tom costello starting us off in our washington newsroom tonight. tom, thanks.