Mystery surrounds why worker stole plane before crashing to his death
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