Police kill gunman who tried to hijack helicopter at Hillsboro Airport

The Oregonian – by Everton Bailey Jr. and Olivia Dimmer

As Christopher Neal watched planes fly in and out of the Hillsboro Airport with his wife and young son, a stranger in a gray hoodie caught their eye.

With his hood up and hands in his pockets, the man walked from across Northwest Cornell Road toward a barbed-wire fence leading to airport property, Neal said. The man briefly looked at the family, then back toward the fence.  

It was the beginning of a bizarre attempt to hijack a helicopter that left a gunman dead in a field across from the airport.

“For a moment, I thought to myself that it was a little warm for the big, thick, gray hoodie with the hood over him,” said Neal, Public Safety Director for the Port of Portland, which owns and operates the airport. Neal said he was there on his day off because his son likes to watch planes.

The hooded man ran toward the fence, pulled a mask over his face, climbed the fence, stepped on the barbed wire at the top and went over.

Neal said he rushed his family back into their car and went to a nearby parking lot.

Within the hour, Hillsboro police said the man tried to steal a helicopter at gunpoint outside a flight school, hopped back over the fence at the sight of an officer and was fatally shot after a chase into a nearby field.

It was 11:23 a.m. when the masked man went up to a helicopter with a flight instructor and student inside as it was warming up with its rotar spinning overhead at Hillsboro Aero Academy, said Lt. Henry Reimann, a Hillsboro police spokesman. The man opened the door, pointed a gun at the student and ordered the student out.

When the student hesitated, the man fired one round away from the helicopter and the student got out and ran away, Reimann said. He then went to the other side of the helicopter and pointed a gun at the instructor, who was also the pilot. He ordered the instructor out and then jumped in.

Employees from Hillsboro Aero, armed with personal firearms, held the man at gunpoint, Hillsboro police said.

Shortly after, Hillsboro police arrived, Reimann said.

The man ran from the helicopter, went back over the barbed-wire fence and fled across Cornell Road near the Comfort Inn.

A second Hillsboro police officer encountered the man in a field and shot him, Reimann said. The man died at the scene.

No other injuries were reported. Police haven’t yet identified the suspect or the involved officer. The officer has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard procedure.

Flights were halted briefly but the airport was open by 1 p.m., officials said.

Andy Smith, a general aviation intern at Hillsboro Airport, said he was doing a perimeter check at the airport and when he got back into the office he picked up a call from CNN. That was the first he heard of the shooting.

He said he checked with the airport tower, which confirmed a shooting.

The Port of Portland said Hillsboro police are leading the investigation and referred all questions to them.

More than 25 businesses operate at the 950-acre airport, including flight schools, corporate flight departments, aircraft charter services and air ambulance services. It was established in 1928.

Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian/OregonLive staff contributed to this report.

— Everton Bailey Jr.


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