Sea-Tac plane thief acted alone, crashed on pur­pose, FBI says

The News Tribune - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS KRELL akrell@the­new­stri­bune.com

The FBI said Fri­day that a Sum­ner man acted alone in steal­ing an Alaska Air­lines plane from Seat­tle-Ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Au­gust and in­ten­tion­ally crashed the air­craft on Ketron Is­land in Pierce County.

“Ev­i­dence col­lected dur­ing the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion indi­cates Richard Rus­sell, 28, of Sum­ner, Wash­ing­ton, pi­loted the air­craft and that the fi­nal de­scent to the ground was in­ten­tional,” the agency said in a state­ment. “Ex­ten­sive in­ves­tiga­tive ac­tiv­ity failed to re­veal any ad­di­tional sub­ject(s) in­volved in the plan­ning or ex­e­cu­tion of the unau­tho­rized flight.”

Rus­sell, a Hori­zon Air ground crew mem­ber who went by the nick­name “Beebo,” was killed in the Aug. 10 crash. No one else was hurt.

He had ac­cess to planes and tow equip­ment at the air­port, the FBI said.

The agency’s time line has Rus­sell com­ing to work about 2:30 p.m. and about five hours later get­ting into the 76-pas­sen­ger plane, start­ing it, then us­ing a tow ve­hi­cle to point the plane to the air­field, and tak­ing off.

He crashed the tur­bo­prop at 8:46 p.m. af­ter do­ing ac­ro­batic stunts as two fighter jets flew along­side him.

“The FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not re­veal that Rus­sell re­ceived any for­mal flight train­ing,” the state­ment said. “How­ever, in­ves­ti­ga­tors learned that Rus­sell was fa­mil­iar with the check­list of ac­tions for start­ing an air­plane. In­ves­ti­ga­tors were also aware of In­ter­net searches Rus­sell per­formed for flight in­struc­tional videos.

“In­ves­ti­ga­tors did not un­cover any con­clu­sive ev­i­dence to sug­gest fur­ther, in­for­mal flight train­ing.”

The voice recorder in the cock­pit did not re­veal any­thing sig­nif­i­cant be­sides Rus­sell’s con­ver­sa­tion with air traf­fic con­trol, which has al­ready been widely pub­li­cized, the FBI said.

Dur­ing the hour-long flight Rus­sell also talked about his loved ones with air-traf­fic con­trollers.

“I would like to apol­o­gize to each and ev­ery one of them,” he said. “Just a bro­ken guy. Got a few screws loose. Never knew it un­til now.”

Ac­cord­ing to flight recorder data, the state­ment said: “If the pi­lot had wanted to avoid im­pact with the ground he had time and en­ergy to pull the col­umn back, raise the nose, and ini­ti­ate a climb.”

In­ter­views with co­work­ers and loved ones, as well as text mes­sages with Rus­sell dur­ing the flight, do not in­di­cate why he stole the plane, the FBI said.

There’s noth­ing to sug­gest the theft “was re­lated to wider crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity or ter­ror­ist ide­ol­ogy,” the state­ment said. “Al­though in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ceived in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing Rus­sell’s back­ground, pos­si­ble stres­sors, and per­sonal life, no el­e­ment pro­vided a clear mo­ti­va­tion for Rus­sell’s ac­tions.”

Alaska Air­lines has said Rus­sell was au­tho­rized to be on the tar­mac at SeaTac Air­port and in­side planes, and that no se­cu­rity pro­to­cols were vi­o­lated. His work as a ground agent in­cluded han­dling bag­gage, tidy­ing air­planes and op­er­at­ing tow ve­hi­cles to move air­craft.

Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources

A small me­mo­rial on Ketron Is­land is a re­minder of the crash.

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