Austin Pilot Suicide: Joe Stack

19 Feb 10 7 Comments

Yesterday morning, Joseph Andrew Stack flew his single-engine plane into the Echelon building in North Austin, Texas. He left Georgetown airfield and flew directly to the location – low and at full speed – before crashing into the building.

It was quickly confirmed that this was intentional, a controlled flight into a building which housed an IRS centre with almost 200 employees. The impact of the plane was described as an earthquake or an explosion. Thirteen employees were treated for injuries related to the resulting fire, with two admitted into hospital. The remains of three people have been found in the building.
Stack owned the plane, a Piper Cherokee Dakota, a single-engine, four-seater plane similar to the one pictured. The Dakota has four fuel tanks and holds 84 US gallons (318 litres) of fuel. He could have easily reached his destination with only one tank of AVgas, thus it is possible that the other three tanks could have held liquid accelerants in order to keep the fires burning.

Although Stack’s webpage has been removed, copies of his suicide manifesto which was posted to his company website that day, are available all over the Internet. At six pages, it is long and detailed – some say rambling – but makes it clear that the building he flew into was very carefully chosen.

Stack explains, in abstract terms, the issues he has had with the IRS over the years. Yahoo! News offers some detail. “According to California state records, Stack had a troubled business history, twice starting software companies in California that ultimately were suspended by the state’s tax board, one in 2000, the other in 2004. Also, his first wife filed for bankruptcy in 1999, listing a debt to the IRS of nearly $126,000.”

Certainly it is clear that Stack felt he had been treated unfairly and in his manifesto he comes to the conclusion that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

The Manifesto Of Austin Texas Crash Pilot Joseph Andrew Stack

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

Earlier that day, Stack appears to have set his house on fire. Austin paper the Statesman reports:

Neighbors said they heard a loud noise that sounded like a car crash at about 9:15 a.m. and soon saw flames coming from house.

Neighbor Elbert Hutchins said he ran to the house while calling 911 and saw flames coming out of an upstairs window. Soon he saw a woman and a girl drive up in a car.

Neighbors believe that was Stack’s wife and daughter, who is about 12 years old.

His neighbour, Chuck Watkins, filmed the flames:

Stack then went to Georgetown airfield to his plane. Many news reports have cited that he did not have a flight plan – I’m not sure why you would want to notify the FAA of your intentions to fly into a building or quite how that flight plan would look. However, it’s worth understanding that there is no reason to fly a flightplan for a local VFR flight – it would have been more surprising if he had filed one.

12160.ORG state that this recording is the final transmissions to Georgetown Tower from N2889D, in MP3 format. The pilot was cleared for take-off and then stated he was heading southbound from Georgetown. The controller approved a frequency change and the pilot signed off. There’s been no information that he spoke to Austin control after this point.

Local news station KXAN have put footage of the scene on YouTube for viewing.

The National Transportation Safety Board are expected to announce a press briefing today.

Category: Accident Reports,


  • I didn’t know Joe, but I had met him in the GTU terminal a few times. I would say hello, he would just nod and smile. I work about two miles from where the crash is and I could see the smoke and hear sirens.

    It seems none of his friends knew how troubled he was. I always feel bad when a pilot does something like this as we’re a community and one of our own fell.

    The media always brings up the flight plan. Locally, they even had a retired airline pilot who said a responsible pilot always files one… how do you file a flight plan for a local scenic flight. This is just ignorance.

    I also listened to them give at least four different aircraft types within the first two hours, a Piper 150?, a Cirrus, Cessna 150, Piper Cherokee, and finally a Piper Dakota 140. Get the story out first, check facts later!

  • Brian: It really is tragic – he doesn’t appear to have been violent in the past but he sure made up for it in a single day.

    Jack: There’s a reference to his father-in-law saying he knew Stack had a “hang-up” about the IRS and I guess there were problems with his wife. I left that out as I didn’t want the post to end up gossipy. But how could anyone make the jump from upset to flying a plane into a building? Ergh.

    The flight plan thing really is ridiculous, I’m glad I’m not the only one wound up about it.

    One of the reasons I write these posts is to sift out the verifiable information from all the bizarre “facts” that get quoted over and over without any recognisable source.

    Now that I’ve said that, though, I’m sure to find that I’ve posted something completely untrue!

  • This was tragic, handling large debt though is tough and I guess it could drive someone over the edge at times if their getting badgered about it by the taxman, it’s not always easy to get a hold of the money to meet whatever payment plans. It’s just sad.

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