Investigators hoping to answer more questions in stolen plane case

Aircraft logos were painted over, employees told to erase photos

Published: Wednesday, July 18 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

A SkyWest airplane is moved after a pilot stole the plane and crashed it in a St. George Municipal Airport parking lot Tuesday. The remaining logo on the tail of the plane was painted over during the 8 a.m. hour Tuesday and airport employees were ordered to delete any cell phone photos they had taken.

, Deseret News

ST. GEORGE — The damaged plane still sat on airport property Wednesday, but out of the way of traffic and the runway.

A day after a wild scenario unfolded at the St. George Municipal Airport that ended with the death of a murder suspect and a crashed commercial jetliner in the airport parking lot, officials Wednesday were still trying to piece together exactly how everything unfolded.

Officials are also investigating whether changes need to be made to prevent similar occurrences from happening at the airport, or any other small airport in Utah, in the future.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern right now," St. George Police Capt. James Van Fleet said of the investigation.

Tuesday, Brian Joseph Hedglin, 40, scaled a barbed wire fence at the airport just before 1 a.m. He was able to enter a SkyWest jet and start it. As he drove the plane on the tarmac, he damaged a sky bridge and the terminal before rolling through a fence and plowing into at least 12 vehicles in an airport parking lot.

Hedglin, a SkyWest Airlines pilot who was on administrative leave at the time of the incident, was wanted in Colorado Springs in connection with the stabbing death of his former longtime girlfriend, 39-year-old Christina Cornejo.

Hedglin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the airplane after it became stuck in the parking lot. How he gained access inside the plane and what he intended to do were still unknown Wednesday.

Police are waiting for two key pieces of information: toxicology reports that would determine whether Hedglin was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time he stole the plane and an analysis of the plane's voice recorder and data box, Van Fleet said.

Both items could take several weeks to be returned.

"We want to find out if he made any statements in the cockpit, exactly when did he start and stop manipulating the controls inside the plane," he said.

Police were also reviewing surveillance video from the airport.

Cornejo was a full-time National Guard member, joining in 2006 and becoming an officer in 2011. She was part of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. She was living in Colorado Springs but has ties to Utah, living at one time in Orem.

Some have also questioned why SkyWest painted over its logos on the damaged aircraft in the early morning hours following the incident — and why some employees were instructed to erase photos taken of the plane.

Without elaborating, a SkyWest spokeswoman called the decision to paint over the logos a "longstanding industry practice."

Arthur Yann, vice president of the New York based Public Relations Society of America, said it's not a common practice in the airline industry, but it has happened in the past with other airlines.

Yann, who works in public relations but not specifically for any airline company and is not an expert in airline operations, speculated that SkyWest wanted to protect the Delta brand name, since the aircraft Hedglin took belonged to Delta but was being operated by SkyWest.

Still, he said the practice of painting over the logo is one he would advise against.

"One of the hallmarks of good public relations is transparency," he said. "By going out and painting over the tail, I think that just raises more questions than it answers."

The public is generally very forgiving, Yann said. But by painting over a logo, it would appear that an airline is trying to hide something.

Both Van Fleet and the FBI said Wednesday that they were done processing the plane and evidence from it had been collected before SkyWest employees were allowed to paint over the logo.

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