FBI seeks mo­tive for plane crash

Ques­tions asked af­ter ‘sui­ci­dal’ em­ployee is able to steal air­craft

China Daily - - WORLD -

SEAT­TLE — Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties on Satur­day were seek­ing to learn what drove an air­line worker to steal an empty air­plane from Seat­tle’s air­port in a se­cu­rity scare that caused the scram­bling of US fighter jets and ended when the plane crashed.

A Hori­zon Air ground ser­vice agent got into a Bom­bardier Q400 tur­bo­prop air­craft on Fri­day night in a main­te­nance area at Seat­tle-Ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port and took off, Hori­zon sis­ter car­rier Alaska Air­lines said.

He flew for about an hour, of­ten er­rat­i­cally and with at­tempts at aerial stunts, be­fore crash­ing onto sparsely pop­u­lated Ketron Is­land in Puget Sound, 40 kilo­me­ters to the south­west.

The 29-year-old man, who has not been of­fi­cially iden­ti­fied, was sui­ci­dal and ap­peared to have acted alone, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties. He was be­lieved to have been killed in the crash.

Co-work­ers said the 29-year-old air­port worker nick­named “Beebo” who com­man­deered an empty pas­sen­ger plane from Seat­tle’s main air­port, then crashed it into the is­land, was “quiet” and “very friendly”.

The lo­cal sher­iff de­scribed Hori­zon Air em­ployee Richard Rus­sell as “sui­ci­dal” when he flew off in an empty pas­sen­ger plane from Seat­tle’s main air­port late on Fri­day.

Rus­sell’s fam­ily, how­ever. used words as “warm” and “com­pas­sion­ate” to de­scribe the mar­ried man who once owned a bak­ery.

Two F-15 fighter jets chased the twin-en­gine tur­bo­prop plane that Rus­sell had hi­jacked for more than an hour. He flew the Bom­bardier Q400 plane in a loop — an im­prob­a­ble stunt caught on video by a sur­prised by­stander — then slammed it into the sparsely pop­u­lated is­land in Puget Sound.

In par­tial record­ings of Rus­sell’s conversations with air traf­fic con­trollers that were pub­lished on­line, he said he was sorry to dis­ap­point peo­ple who cared about him and de­scribed him­self as a “bro­ken guy”.

“Got a few screws loose, I guess,” Rus­sell is heard say­ing in the record­ing. “Never re­ally knew it un­til now.”

Ev­ery­body’s stunned ... that some­thing like this would hap­pen. How could it?”

Rick Chris­ten­son, re­tired op­er­a­tional su­per­vi­sor

Au­thor­i­ties ruled out any link to ter­ror.

“It may seem dif­fi­cult for those watch­ing at home to be­lieve, but Beebo was a warm, com­pas­sion­ate man,” read a let­ter from Rus­sell’s fam­ily re­leased to the US me­dia.

We are “stunned and heart­bro­ken” by the in­ci­dent, read the let­ter, which the fam­ily said would be the only state­ment they would make.

“He was a faith­ful hus­band, a lov­ing son, and a good friend ... This is a com­plete shock to us.”

Rus­sell’s role at Hori­zon, where he had worked since 2015, in­volved tow­ing air­craft, load­ing and un­load­ing cargo and lug­gage, and clean­ing the air­craft, of­fi­cials said. Ini­tial re­ports said he was an air­line me­chanic.

Rick Chris­ten­son, an op­er­a­tional su­per­vi­sor with Hori­zon Air who re­cently re­tired, told the news­pa­per that Rus­sell was “a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other work­ers”.

Se­cu­rity per­son­nel were shocked by how eas­ily Rus­sell was able to fly off with the 76-seat tur­bo­prop plane.

“Ev­ery­body’s stunned ... that some­thing like this would hap­pen,” said 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, adding that “no se­cu­rity vi­o­la­tions were com­mit­ted”.

Gary Beck, CEO of Alaska Air­lines af­fil­i­ate Hori­zon, said: “Com­mer­cial air­craft are com­plex ma­chines ... No idea how he achieved that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.