FBI: Seat­tle plane thief searched for flight videos on­line

Tri-City Herald - - News - BY SALLY HO

Au­thor­i­ties say the Seat­tle air­port ground crew worker who stole an empty com­mer­cial air­plane had ap­par­ently searched on­line for flight in­struc­tion videos be­fore he took off on a dizzy­ing ride that soon crashed into a small is­land.

The FBI an­nounced Fri­day that it’s con­clud­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the unau­tho­rized flight from Seat­tle-Ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Au­gust 10, af­ter de­ter­min­ing that 28-year-old Richard Russell of Sum­ner, Wash­ing­ton, acted alone. An FBI spokes­woman pre­vi­ously noted an in­cor­rect age for him.

Russell had worked for more than three years for Hori­zon Air, which is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes through­out the U.S. West.

“The FBI found this was an iso­lated, unan­tic­i­pated in­ci­dent by one in­di­vid­ual,” the air­line said in a state­ment. It also noted that the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion also de­ter­mined Hori­zon Air didn’t vi­o­late se­cu­rity reg­u­la­tions.

The air­line called it “a very dif­fi­cult mo­ment for us and many oth­ers” and said it is work­ing with ex­perts and the govern­ment to con­sider se­cu­rity “en­hance­ments” go­ing for­ward.

The Port of Seat­tle said it ex­pects its own in­de­pen­dent re­view to be fin­ished by the end of the year and that it has taken im­me­di­ate ac­tion to “im­prove se­cu­rity and fully sup­port the avi­a­tion em­ploy­ees who we de­pend upon every day.”

The FBI’s probe in­di­cates that Russell ar­rived for work that af­ter­noon at the air­port with­out any is­sues.

By that evening, Russell was on and off the Hori­zon Air Q400, a tur­bo­prop plane that seats 76 peo­ple, to po­si­tion it for flight. The plane then moved away from its parked lo­ca­tion around 7:30 p.m. and was seen per­form­ing ac­ro­batic stunts be­fore the fa­tal plunge into a thick for­est on Ketron Is­land. It was trailed by two mil­i­tary F-15C jets that scram­bled from Port­land, Ore­gon, to chase the plane.

“I think I’m go­ing to try to do a bar­rel roll, and if that goes good I’ll go nose down and call it a night,” Russell said from the cock­pit, ac­cord­ing to a record­ing of his con­ver­sa­tion with the con­troller.

The FBI said it doesn’t ap­pear that Russell vi­o­lated any other se­cu­rity mea­sures or pro­to­cols be­fore the plane took off.

Russell was prop­erly cre­den­tialed with ac­cess to the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior of the air­craft. As part of his du­ties, he also knew about the air­craft’s aux­il­iary power unit, tow equip­ment and ma­neu­ver­ing op­er­a­tions, though he didn’t ap­pear to have any for­mal flight train­ing.

TED S. WAR­REN AP file

Smoke and an orange glow from a stolen air­plane that crashed on Ketron Is­land as seen from near Steila­coom, Wash., on Aug. 11. Au­thor­i­ties say the Seat­tle air­port ground crew worker who stole an empty com­mer­cial air­plane had ap­par­ently searched on­line for flight in­struc­tion videos be­fore he took off on a dizzy­ing ride that ended in his death. He was prop­erly cre­den­tialed with ac­cess to the air­craft’s in­te­rior and ex­te­rior.

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