- Airline ground agent Richard Russell stole an empty Horizon Air plane on Friday night from Sea-Tac International Airport and fatally crashed into a small island in the Puget Sound.
- Officials have said that the 29-year-old was not a licensed pilot, but had clearance to be among aircraft.
- Video from the incident shows the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and dangerous maneuvers before crashing on to an island 90 minutes after taking off.
- It remains unclear how Russell attained skills to do loops in the aircraft, or how he knew how to start the engine, which requires a series of switches and levers.
The airline ground agent who stole an empty commercial aeroplane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport, and fatally crashed into a small island in the Puget Sound was not a licensed pilot, officials said Saturday.
The man, identified to the Associated Press as 29-year-old Richard Russell, was a 3.5-year Horizon Airlines employee and had clearance to be among aircraft.
Russell, who is presumed dead, took the plane from a maintenance area at Sea-Tac after using a pushback tractor to turn the aircraft 180 degrees toward the runways, The Seattle Times reported.
Video from the incident shows the Horizon Air Q400, a turboprop plane that seats 76 people, doing large loops and dangerous maneuvers before crashing onto an island 90 minutes after taking off.
It remains unclear how Russell attained skills to do loops in the aircraft, or how he knew how to start the engine, which requires a series of switches and levers.
UPDATE: Airline mechanic stole an Alaska Airlines plane without any passengers and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington state before crashing near Ketron Island, officials said: https://t.co/gzqIUY7M4g pic.twitter.com/RWgaArMN1i
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) August 11, 2018
As a ground service agent for Horizon, Russell directed aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, de-iced planes, and handled baggage.
Russell could be heard on air traffic control audio recordings saying he was “just a broken guy” with “a few screws loose.”
Air traffic controllers tried to convince him to land the plane before he crashed on to Ketron Island.
The incident delayed traffic from Sea-Tac for more than an hour as fighter jets from Portland tried to stop Russell’s rogue flight, according to the Seattle Times.
Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air said they are working with authorities to investigate exactly how Russell carried out Friday’s theft.
“Last night’s event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline,” Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden said at a news conference.
The FBI is leading the investigation into the incident and is working with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, according to the Seattle Times.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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