Mys­tery sur­rounds why worker stole plane be­fore crashing to his death

Irish Independent - - World News - Bren­dan O’Brien

AMER­I­CAN au­thor­i­ties are seek­ing to learn what drove an air­line worker to steal an empty plane from Seat­tle’s air­port in a se­cu­rity scare that caused fighter jets to be scram­bled and ended only when it crashed.

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

He flew for about one hour, of­ten er­rat­i­cally with at­tempts at aerial stunts, be­fore crashing on to sparsely pop­u­lated Ketron Is­land in Puget Sound, 40km to the south west.

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

Rel­a­tives and co-work­ers iden­ti­fied him as Richard Rus­sell of Sum­ner, Wash­ing­ton, who was also known as Beebo.

“He was a faith­ful hus­band, a lov­ing son, and a good friend,”

the Rus­sell fam­ily said in a state­ment.

“This is a com­plete shock to us. We are dev­as­tated by these events and Je­sus is truly the only one hold­ing this fam­ily to­gether right now.”

Rus­sell was not known to have had a pi­lot’s li­cence, Hori­zon Air CEO Gary Beck said. It was not clear how he had been able to take off and fly as he did.

“There were some ma­noeu­vres that were done that were in­cred­i­ble with the air­craft,” Mr Beck said.

“Com­mer­cial air­craft are com­plex ma­chines. They’re not as easy to fly as, say, a Cessna 150, so I don’t know how he achieved [what] he did.”

The lo­cal sher­iff’s de­part­ment said on Twit­ter that ei­ther do­ing stunts “or lack of fly­ing skills” caused the crash.

In par­tial record­ings of Rus­sell’s con­ver­sa­tions with air traf­fic con­trollers, 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.” He also ad­mired the sun­set, com­plained of light-head­ed­ness, and asked whether he would go to pri­son if he landed safely.

He had worked for Hori­zon Air for three years and had clear­ance to tow planes, Alaska Air­lines CEO Brad Tilden said.

Mr Tilden said that type do plane did not have doors that lock or ig­ni­tion keys like cars.

“The set-up in avi­a­tion in Amer­ica is we se­cure the air­field and we have the mind­set that we have em­ploy­ees [with cre­den­tials] autho­rised to be there,” Mr Tilden said, adding the air­line was work­ing with au­thor­i­ties.

Two F-15 fighter jets took to the air from a base in Port­land, Ore­gon, and were on the scene within min­utes. The jets were armed but did not open fire, said a US Aerospace De­fence Com­mand spokesman.

The pilots and air traf­fic con­trollers tried to guide the plane away from pop­u­lated ar­eas.

The Bom­bardier Q400 tur­bo­prop is de­signed for short-dis­tance flights and can seat 76 pas­sen­gers.

An Alaska Air­lines Bom­bardier Q40 leaves Seat­tle yes­ter­day

Air­line worker Richard Rus­sell had clear­ance to tow planes

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