FBI Seeks Motive after U.S. Airline Worker Steals Plane, Crashes It

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Richard Russell, who liked to be called Beebo, is seen in an undated photograph from a video he produced for his Youtube channel
Richard Russell, who liked to be called Beebo, is seen in an undated photograph from a video he produced for his Youtube channel, obtained August 11, 2018. Russell has been named by multiple media outlets as the Horizon Airlines worker who stole an empty plane in Seattle. Youtube/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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By Brendan O’Brien and Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters)

Federal authorities on Saturday were seeking to learn what drove an airline worker to steal an empty airplane from Seattle’s airport in a security scare that caused the scrambling of U.S. fighter jets and ended when the plane crashed

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

 

A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media
A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place, Washington, the U.S., before crashing in the South Puget Sound, August 10, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. John Waldron/via REUTERS

 

He flew for about one hour, often erratically with attempts at aerial stunts, before crashing onto sparsely populated Ketron Island in Puget Sound, some 25 miles (40 km) to the southwest.

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

 

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington
Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

Relatives and co-workers identified the man as Richard Russell of Sumner, Washington, who also went by the name 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,” the family said.

 

 

Russell was not known to have had a pilot’s licence, Horizon Air Chief Executive Gary Beck said at a news conference, and it was not clear how he was able to take off and fly as he did.

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

 

A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media
A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place, Washington, the U.S., before crashing in the South Puget Sound, August 10, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. John Waldron/via REUTERS

 

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 that were published online by Broadcastify.com, he said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him and described himself as a “broken guy.”

 

An F-15 jet flies overhead as it attempts to intercept a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, which was reported to be hijacked, in Fircrest, Washington
An F-15 jet attempts to intercept a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, which was reported to be hijacked, in Fircrest, Washington, the U.S. before crashing in south Puget Sound, August 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Christopher Maher/via REUTERS

 

“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 lightheadedness, and asked whether he would go to prison if he landed safely.

He had worked for Horizon Air for 3-1/2 years and had clearance to tow planes, Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Brad Tilden said at the news conference.

 

Air Alaska maintenance workers walk through the the terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle
Air Alaska maintenance workers walk through the the terminal, following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

Tilden said airplanes of that type do not have doors that lock or ignition keys like cars.

“The setup in aviation in America is we secure the airfield and then we have the mindset that we have employees that are credentialed and authorized to be there,” Tilden said, adding that the airline was working with authorities to investigate.

 

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington
Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

The FBI is leading the probe, which also includes the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We are going to be thorough, which means taking the time needed to scour the area, delve into the background of the individual believed responsible, and review every aspect of this incident with all appropriate public & private partners,” the FBI said in a statement.

 

Air Alaska planes sit on the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle
Air Alaska planes sit on the tarmac at the terminal, following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

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, North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman Cameron Hillier said by phone.

Instead, the F-15 pilots and air traffic controllers tried to guide the plane west, away from populated areas, said Hillier. No one was hurt on the ground, authorities said.

 

A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies upside down over University Place in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media
A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies upside down over University Place, Washington, the U.S., before crashing in the South Puget Sound, August 10, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. John Waldron/via REUTERS

 

It was unclear how the employee was able to taxi the plane on a runway and take off without authorization.

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

 

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Kim Coghill)

 

A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media
A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, reported to be hijacked, flies over University Place, Washington, the U.S., before crashing in the South Puget Sound, August 10, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. John Waldron/via REUTERS

 

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