Former Idaho Air-Traffic Controller Accused of Stealing Plane

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A former Federal Aviation Administration air-traffic controller was charged in 1st District Court with grand theft for allegedly stealing a plane from the Coeur d'Alene Airport for a flight during which, authorities say, he considered jumping out.

Bail was set Thursday at $100,000 for Tracy Allen Jenson of Spirit Lake, said Kim Edmondson, a Kootenai County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman in Coeur d'Alene. A judge also recommended Jenson undergo a mental evaluation.

Jenson, 47, worked as an FAA controller for 21 years, including stints at Boeing Field near Seattle and Felts Field in Spokane Valley, Wash.

He left his job as an air-traffic controller at Boeing Field in 2003 in a pay dispute with the FAA, said Clyde Jenson, his father, in an interview with The Associated Press. He has since grown steadily more upset and made comments about crashing a plane into a mountain or a control tower, Clyde Jenson said.

''The longer it's gone on, the worse it's got,'' the father said from his Spirit Lake home. ''He hasn't had a job, no income. He's been trying to get a lawsuit together to get a settlement out of the FAA.''

Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the FAA in Renton, Wash., confirmed that Jenson had worked at Boeing Field.

He declined to comment on the circumstances of his departure two years ago.

''We're not aware of any lawsuit that's been filed against us by Jenson,'' Fergus said.

The incident started Wednesday morning when Jenson rented a single-engine Cessna 172 from a local aviation company at the Coeur d'Alene airport near Hayden. He told the flight instructor at Intermountain Aviation that he wanted to practice takeoffs and landings, according to Edmondson.

The flight instructor told deputies that Jenson practiced five ''touch-and-go'' maneuvers - in which the plane lands and takes off without coming to a stop - before flying away and disappearing into the sky.

''He was planning to do touch and goes, look around the area,'' said Mark Munkittrick, owner of Intermountain Aviation. ''Apparently he decided to do more than that.''

The instructor who rented Jenson the plane eventually notified deputies after Jenson didn't return after five hours.

After informing the FAA and FBI, deputies talked with Jenson's father, who told them his son was upset after quitting the controller job. Clyde Jenson told deputies his son had called him at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday from the airport in Sandpoint, where he'd landed the plane.

Law enforcement agents in Sandpoint were notified, but by the time they got to the airport, Jenson had taken off again.

Shortly after midnight Thursday, the plane was picked up on radar approaching Coeur d'Alene. Once on the ground, Smart said the plane turned in circles several times.

After police spotted the plane, Jenson allegedly turned the plane back to the runway, but could not take off because it was low on fuel.

''He ran out of gas,'' Edmondson said, adding that Jenson coasted to a stop, exited and began walking away before he was arrested. He told deputies he'd contemplated taking the plane into the air and then jumping out.

Jenson was also charged with burglary for allegedly breaking into an airport building before the incident and stealing keys, Edmondson said. She said he told deputies that he planned to steal a plane if he had been unsuccessful in renting one.

The FAA's Fergus said Jenson isn't in trouble with the agency at this point because it doesn't appear that he had broken any flying rules.