PORTLAND, Ore. — The pilot of a commercial airliner was forced to stop on the taxiway at Portland International Airport (PDX) on Sunday after a car drove underneath its wing. Port of Portland police chased the driver and arrested him at gunpoint.
Officers say 24-year-old Ulises Tejeda-Ayala, of Washougal, crashed his white sedan through a perimeter gate at the airport with a woman and two kids inside the car.
“It was just surreal,” said arriving PDX passenger Allison Whitaker, who captured the arrest on video from inside the airport terminal. “It all happened pretty quickly.”
On Sunday evening, an airport operations worker was checking the runway when he spotted a white sedan driving on the ramp near parked planes. The driver waived a white cloth outside the window.
According to a police report, the airport employee signaled the driver to stop and found a man, woman and two children inside the car.
When confronted by Port of Portland officers, the driver said he and his family were being chased by several trucks and they had crashed through the airport fence to escape.
As officers were investigating, police said the driver got back into the car with one of the children in his lap. Two officers jumped out of the way to avoid being run over, according to a police report.
Investigators said the driver took off down an active taxiway, forcing a commercial airliner to stop as the sedan went under its wing. No one was hurt.
The driver eventually stopped near the airport’s new E gates, where he was taken into custody.
Police booked Tejeda-Ayala into the Multnomah County Jail on felony charges including criminal mischief, assaulting a police officer and attempting to elude. Tejeda-Ayala was released from jail until his next court date.
Booking records suggest Tejeda-Ayala has no criminal record and no history of drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
Tejeda-Ayala could not be reached for comment.
The woman and children in the car were interviewed and released, according to a police report.
An aviation security expert explained it is unusual, but not unheard of, for an unauthorized vehicle to make it onto an airport runway or ramp.
In most cases, drivers are intoxicated or confused.
“This one is odd because the person drove through the fence in order to evade pursuers of some sort,” said Jeff Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science. “With three decades in this industry, that’s a new one for me.”
Port police dispatch recordings suggested investigators looked at video and found no evidence of another vehicle chasing the sedan onto the airport property, although the investigation is ongoing.
Price explained safety measures worked as they were intended to.
“The fence is really not designed to be impenetrable. It is designed to be a delaying action to allow law enforcement intercept any unauthorized personnel or vehicle,” said Price. “In this case, it worked.”