‘Sui­ci­dal’ man did no wrong

The Citizen (KZN) - - WORLD - Seat­tle–A

29-year-old “sui­ci­dal” air­port worker who com­man­deered an empty plane from Seat­tle’s main air­port and took it on an hour-long flight chased by F-15 fighter jets be­fore crashing into a small is­land did not com­mit any se­cu­rity vi­o­la­tions, of­fi­cials said on Satur­day.

Hori­zon Air em­ployee Richard Rus­sell told an air traf­fic con­troller he was “just a bro­ken man” min­utes be­fore dy­ing late on Fri­day in the Bom­bardier Q400 twin-en­gine tur­bo­prop plane, ap­pear­ing to apol­o­gise for his ac­tions. Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied him to US me­dia.

Au­thor­i­ties ruled out any link to ter­ror. But con­ster­na­tion grew over the safety gaps that al­lowed an air­port worker to eas­ily gain ac­cess to a com­mer­cial air­liner and fly it over a ma­jor met­ro­pol­i­tan area.

“Ev­ery­body’s stunned ... that some­thing like this would hap­pen,” said re­cently re­tired Hori­zon op­er­a­tional su­per­vi­sor Rick Chris­ten­son. “How could it? Ev­ery­body’s been through back­ground checks.”

Rus­sell “had ac­cess le­git­i­mately” to the plane, said Mike Ehl, di­rec­tor of avi­a­tion op­er­a­tions at the air­port in the north­west­ern US state of Wash­ing­ton, adding that “no se­cu­rity vi­o­la­tions were com­mit­ted”.

Video taken by a by­stander showed the 76-seat plane mak­ing a big, slow loop-the-loop as US Air Force F-15 jets gave chase, then fly­ing low over Puget Sound be­fore crashing into sparsely pop­u­lated Ketron Is­land, set­ting trees on fire.

“To our knowl­edge, he didn’t have a pi­lot’s li­cense,” Gary Beck, CEO of Alaska Air­lines af­fil­i­ate Hori­zon, told re­porters.

“Com­mer­cial air­craft are com­plex ma­chines ... I have no idea how he achieved that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Rul­ing out a ter­ror link, Pierce County Sher­iff Paul Pas­tor noted that “most ter­ror­ists don’t do loops over the wa­ter.

“I have an idea that this might have been a joyride gone ter­ri­bly wrong.” – AFP

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