Seattle plane thief searched online for flight videos: FBI
Ground crew worker’s ride ended in crash
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.