Seat­tle plane thief searched on­line for flight videos: FBI

Ground crew worker’s ride ended in crash

Times Colonist - - Canada -

SEAT­TLE — Au­thor­i­ties say the Seat­tle air­port ground crew worker who stole an empty com­mer­cial air­plane had ap­par­ently searched on­line for flight in­struc­tion videos be­fore he took off on a dizzy­ing ride that soon crashed into a small is­land.

The FBI an­nounced Fri­day that it is con­clud­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the unau­tho­rized flight from Seat­tle-Ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Aug. 10, af­ter de­ter­min­ing that 28-year-old Richard Rus­sell of Sum­ner, Wash­ing­ton, acted alone.

Rus­sell had worked for more than three years for Hori­zon Air, which is part of Alaska Air Group, and flies shorter routes in the U.S. West and B.C., in­clud­ing Vic­to­ria.

“The FBI found this was an iso­lated, unan­tic­i­pated in­ci­dent by one in­di­vid­ual,” the air­line said in a state­ment. It also noted that the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­ter­mined Hori­zon Air didn’t vi­o­late se­cu­rity reg­u­la­tions.

The air­line called it “a very dif­fi­cult mo­ment for us and many oth­ers,” and said it is work­ing with ex­perts and the gov­ern­ment to con­sider en­hance­ments to se­cu­rity.

The Port of Seat­tle said it ex­pects its own re­view to be fin­ished by the end of the year and that it has taken ac­tion to “im­prove se­cu­rity and fully sup­port the avi­a­tion em­ploy­ees who we de­pend upon ev­ery day.”

The FBI’s probe in­di­cates that Rus­sell ar­rived for work that af­ter­noon at the air­port with­out any is­sues.

By that evening, Rus­sell was on and off the Hori­zon Air Q400, a tur­bo­prop plane that seats 76 peo­ple, to po­si­tion it for flight. The plane moved away from its parked lo­ca­tion about 7:30 p.m. and was seen per­form­ing ac­ro­batic stunts be­fore the fa­tal plunge into a thick for­est on Ketron Is­land. It was trailed by two mil­i­tary F-15C jets that scram­bled from Port­land, Ore­gon, to chase the plane.

“I think I’m go­ing to try to do a bar­rel roll, and if that goes good I’ll go nose down and call it a night,” Rus­sell said from the cock­pit, ac­cord­ing to a record­ing of his con­ver­sa­tion with the con­troller.

The FBI said it doesn’t ap­pear that Rus­sell vi­o­lated any other se­cu­rity mea­sures or pro­to­cols be­fore the plane took off.

Rus­sell was prop­erly cre­den­tialed with ac­cess to the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior of the air­craft. As part of his du­ties, he also knew about the air­craft’s aux­il­iary power unit, tow equip­ment and ma­noeu­vring op­er­a­tions, though he didn’t ap­pear to have any for­mal flight train­ing.


Richard Rus­sell, in an image posted to his YouTube chan­nel. The bag­gage han­dler stole a com­mer­cial plane from Sea-Tac In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Aug. 10 and died when it crashed.

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