SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A SkyWest Airlines pilot suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend stole an empty 50-passenger jet from a small Utah airport, crashed it as he drove near a terminal, then was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, officials said Tuesday.
Brian Hedglin, 40, used a rug to scale the razor wire-topped security fence at the St. George Municipal Airport overnight Tuesday and drove off with the SkyWest jet, St. George city spokesman Marc Mortenson said.
Hedglin clipped a wing on the terminal building and crashed into cars in a parking lot, Mortenson said. The plane never left the ground.
A police officer making rounds around 12:50 a.m. found a motorcycle with the engine running just outside the perimeter fence. As he searched the grounds for the owner, the officer came upon the idling plane and called SkyWest, Mortenson said.
The airline sent an employee to turn off the engine, he said. Inside, Hedglin was found with a gunshot wound to his head.
It wasn't clear how Hedglin was able to access the plane. Mortenson said the airport is surrounded by six miles of perimeter fencing. He noted the facility meets all Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration requirements.
Mortenson said the entire perimeter isn't observed at all times, "and I would dare say it isn't at any airport in the country."
Jeff Price, an aviation security expert and aviation professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said TSA doesn't require any of the nation's airports to maintain a fulltime surveillance presence of their perimeter fences.
Price, a former assistant security director at Denver International Airport, said Tuesday's breach in Utah highlights a need to revisit such requirements. He also said Hedglin never should have been able to access the plane even after he got onto airport grounds.
"It should have been locked and secured if it wasn't in use," Price said. "Maybe we need to implement some more levels of perimeter security because any type of security incident like this is a lesson to both the good guys and the bad guys. They read the papers just as much as we do."
TSA spokeswoman Jonella Culmer said the agency is "currently reviewing perimeter compliance" at the St. George airport.
However, TSA noted that perimeter security is primarily the responsibility of each individual airport.
SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow said an inexperienced person could not have operated the airline's plane.
"It involves sophisticated procedures and requires an extensive amount of training to even know how to start the plane," she said.
Snow said Hedglin has been a pilot for the airline since 2005 but had been on administrative leave since July 13, the same day police found the body of his ex-girlfriend, Christina Cornejo, 39, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Authorities responded for a welfare check at the request of her family. Authorities say she had been stabbed multiple times.
Colorado Springs police said they had contacted SkyWest officials and asked them to deactivate his access cards in case he showed up at the airline anywhere in the country.
The Gazette of Colorado Springs, citing court records, reported that Hedglin dated Cornejo for four years and was arrested in March after police say he had been harassing her.
The records show that a restraining order was issued against Hedglin in March, and he was set for trial in August. He was free on $10,000 bond.
Attorney Steven Rodemer, who represented Hedglin in that case, said he was facing misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, theft and harassment, but felony charges were dismissed Thursday.
"I'm completely surprised," he said of Hedglin's death.
Rodemer said he hadn't seen Hedglin since their last court date Thursday.
Hedglin was also a member of the Colorado National Guard, where he was a part-time soldier who worked as a cook. He had no specialized military training and was never deployed, Capt. Darin Overstreet said.
SkyWest officials said the CRJ200 plane Hedglin stole was not in service at the time. The aircraft is made by Bombardier and is capable of flying up to 534 mph with a range of 1,700 miles. Normally it has a two-person flight crew and a single flight attendant.
Authorities continued to investigate the breach at the small southern Utah airport about 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
A dozen flights leave or arrive at the St. George airport each weekday, according to the airport's website. Most run between southern Utah and Salt Lake City, with two flights connecting St. George and Los Angeles.
Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin and Dan Elliott contributed to this report from Denver. Holbrook Mohr contributed from Jackson, Miss.