By William Branigin and Spencer S. Hsu
Friday, February 19, 2010; 8:06 AM
A pilot on Thursday crashed his small plane into a building in Austin that houses Internal Revenue Service offices, igniting a huge fire that seriously injured at least two federal employees and sent dozens of others fleeing for their lives.
Hours after the crash, two bodies were recovered. Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck would not identify them but said authorities had now "accounted for everybody," the Associated Press reported.
One federal worker had earlier been unaccounted for. The pilot was presumed killed when his single-engine plane slammed into the Echelon 1 Building in northwestern Austin, local officials said. At least 13 people were injured, with two reported in critical condition.
Federal authorities and public records identified the pilot as A. Joseph Stack, 53, the owner of a Piper Cherokee that took off from an airport in Georgetown, Tex., at 9:40 a.m. Central time and crashed into the building in nearby Austin shortly afterward. (Initial reports from federal and local authorities identified him as Joseph Andrew Stack.)
A purported suicide note left on a Web site registered to software engineer Joe Stack of San Marcos, Tex., spoke of a "storm raging in my head" and said that "desperate times call for desperate measures."
In the self-described "rant," the writer railed about financial failures over two decades and run-ins with the IRS and his tax accountant. "I am finally ready to stop this insanity," he wrote near the end of the message. "Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well." The posting, dated Thursday, was signed: "Joe Stack (1956-2010)."
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said that Stack set fire to his house before taking off in his plane and that investigators were trying to determine whether he carried accelerants on board in addition to the Piper's fuel.
Asked why casualties apparently were much lower than initially feared, Acevedo said: "I think we were very fortunate. . . . Some folks might have seen this aircraft coming and yelled out some warnings, and I believe there were some heroic actions this morning on the part of federal employees."
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said IRS personnel were reported to have suffered burns and smoke inhalation. About 190 IRS employees work on the lower floors of the privately owned, seven-story office building, she said.
Witnesses said the plane made no attempt to avoid the building and apparently aimed for its lower floors.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs initially said that the incident did not appear to be related to terrorism but later said that he meant that it appeared not to be a foreign-based plot by a group such as al-Qaeda. He declined to rule out the possibility that the crash was a case of domestic terrorism.
Asked in Austin whether the incident should be described as domestic terrorism, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said, "I think when you fly an airplane into a federal building to kill people . . . it sounds like it to me."