At 10:00 am CST Joseph A. Stack III flew his 1979 Piper Dakota into a building at 9240 N. Research Blvd in Austin. Mr. Stack left a suicide manifesto on his website at embeddedart.com. which clearly showed he had every intention of sacrificing his life in an effort to attack the IRS offices located in the building.
The crash site billowed thick black smoke for up to a half hour after the crash and the early reports were that two people were missing. Anyone who witnessed the accident would be surprised that more lives were not lost.
However, small planes don't have the capability to cause massive loss of life. The 1979 Piper Dakota which Stack used as a weapon has an empty weight of 1,640 lbs and a maximum takeoff weight of 3,000 lbs, far less than most passenger vehicles.
Hopefully politicians will not have a knee jerk reaction and try to impose new restrictions or regulations on light aircraft as a result of the tragedy.
Forensic analysis by the NTSB, local fire officials and other government agencies is already underway. Here is what they are likely to find.
Despite targeting the building at speed likely beyond it's design capability, most of the airplane will have fallen away from the building to the ground. The fire which ensued did the majority of the damage to the building. One person from inside the building is currently missing and presumed dead.
The reality is that small single engine aircraft make terrible weapons. Someone intent on doing damage to a government building or the public at large may make a big splash in the news, but the damage will be far less than someone could cause using a passenger vehicle.
At a 4:30 pm news conference Congressman McCaul called the damage extraordinary. He said "the incident exposed a weakness we have seen since 9/11. Airplanes can fly into federal buildings."
Congressman McCaul sits on several subcommittees for Homeland Security. He went on to say "with private aircraft this kind of thing can happen...This is something we are obviously going to take a look at."
This sensationalizes a tragic incident. Had Mr. Stack used his automobile to drive into the building the damage and loss of life could have been much worse. If the politicians will assess the risks honestly and not grandstand, they will see that readily available cars and trucks present a much greater risk than small planes.