August 11, 2018
SEATTLE — The story is as bizarre as it is tragic: An airline worker who had no business being in a cockpit somehow took off from a major airport in a turboprop passenger plane, dipped and soared in the skies above the Seattle area, and then crashed into an island on Puget Sound.
Richard Russell, Who Stole Plane Near Seattle, Raises Troubling Security Questions
It was all over in about an hour. But the consequences of the unauthorized flight on Friday evening are monumental, aviation experts and investigators said.
The man — a ground service agent identified as Richard B. Russell, according to a law enforcement official — exposed a troubling reality of airport security in the post-9/11 era. While many visible aspects of commercial flight that affect the routines of passengers have been hardened, parts of the system that are behind the scenes, but just as important to public safety as cockpit doors and screening machines, remain vulnerable.
Mr. Russell took off around 7:30 p.m., according to the authorities. He chatted sometimes calmly and sometimes in a frenzied stream of consciousness with air traffic controllers who tried to guide him to a safe landing, as jets from the Air National Guards of Washington and Oregon flew alongside him, ready to take action. The plane came down in a fiery crash on Ketron Island, about 30 miles from the airport. No one else was believed to be on board, and officials confirmed Mr. Russell was killed.
It was not immediately clear how Mr. Russell, who worked for Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group, had managed to take off in the plane. But Debra Eckrote, the chief of the northwest regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said on Saturday that it was conceivable that a ground service agent would be able to start an airplane.
“They don’t necessarily use a key, so there’s switches that they use to start the aircraft,” she said. “So if the person has basic understanding — from what I understand he was support personnel, ground personnel — they probably do have at least a basic understanding on how to start the aircraft.”
At a news conference on Saturday, the chief executive of Horizon Air Industries, Gary Beck, said Mr. Russell did not have a pilot’s license.
“Commercial aircrafts are complex machines,” Mr. Beck added. “I don’t know how he achieved the experience he did.”
Alaska Airlines officials said Mr. Russell had worked for Horizon for three and a half years, and was responsible for handling luggage and cargo and for towing aircraft. He had worked his shift on Friday.
“I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident,” said Brad Tilden, chief executive of Alaska Air Group. “Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved.”
Mr. Russell had cleared all the necessary background checks and was meant to be “on the secure side” of the airport, where the plane was, Mr. Tilden said. The plane was not scheduled for a flight when Mr. Russell commandeered it.
In recordings of Mr. Russell’s remarkable conversation with air traffic controllers, he speaks admiringly of the Olympic Mountains at sunset, complains of lightheadedness and muses about potential prison time if he were to land the plane safely.
At one point, an air traffic controller asked if Mr. Russell felt comfortable flying.
“It’s blast, man,” Mr. Russell replied. “I played video games before so, you know, I know what I’m doing a little bit.”
At times, Mr. Russell was contrite.
“Man, I’m sorry about this. I hope this doesn’t ruin your day,” he said to the controller, adding that he was grateful to be kept away from other aircraft. “I’m glad you’re not, you know, screwing up everyone else’s day on account of me.”
He said he hoped to have a “moment of serenity” in the air but lamented that the sights “went by so fast.”
Videos taken by onlookers during Mr. Russell’s flight showed the plane doing deep dives, broad loops and at least one upside-down roll. At the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, thousands of passengers in the terminal or left sitting in planes on the tarmac were delayed.
“I got a lot of people that care about me, and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” Mr. Russell could be heard saying. “I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
The episode raised questions about the little-known details of life on the tarmac, in the loading, fueling and cleaning operations of airplanes — unglamorous work that is critical to public safety but often poorly paid.
Tim Orr, who also works at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and who said he had known Mr. Russell since they were both 12, said his friend had been frustrated that his airport job did not pay the $15 minimum wage that many other airport workers receive, and had talked about leaving to do something else. But Mr. Russell, his friend said, also loved the travel opportunities that came with working for an airline.
Mr. Russell and his wife were active church members, Mr. Orr said, “so he doesn’t really fit the bill of someone who would steal an airplane.”
“Funniest person in the room,” he added. “Nicest person in the room.”
At a news conference on Saturday, Mike Mathews, a family friend, read a statement on behalf of Mr. Russell’s family. “We are stunned and heartbroken,” according to the statement, which described Mr. Russell as a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.
Referring to the video recordings, the family pointed out that Mr. Russell did not intend to harm anyone. “He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”
Airplane theft, as opposed to hijacking — taking over control in flight, with passengers aboard — is actually not uncommon, though it usually involves private aircraft, not commercial airliners. Colton Harris-Moore, nicknamed the Barefoot Bandit, was sentenced in 2011 for stealing small planes, which he had learned to fly himself as a teenager after reading flight manuals. Drug trade across the United States-Mexico border often happens in stolen planes.
The F.B.I. field office in Seattle, which is leading the investigation, said it would cast a wide net in finding out what happened and why. “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 and private partners,” the office said in a statement.
Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with Horizon, said that while he had met Mr. Russell only in passing between shifts, “I do remember him as a nice quiet young man.” He added that Mr. Russell’s ability to fly might have come from “flight simulator games.”
In a video that appears to have been posted by Mr. Russell in December, he introduced himself as a ground service agent. “That means I lift a lot of bags,” he said. “Like, a lot of bags. So many bags.”
But “it allows me to do some pretty cool things, too,” he added, segueing to footage of a flight tour over Ketchikan, Alaska, followed by images of several countries including France, Ireland and Mexico.
Most importantly, he concluded, “I get to visit those I love most.”
Related Stories
Latest News
Top news around the world
Coronavirus Disease

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Around the World

Celebrity News

> Latest News in Media

Watch It
Julia Fox defends viral ‘Uncut Gems’ interview moment: ‘I was stoned’ | Page Six Celebrity News
February 17, 2022
4m-p0_-ePd8
Alexia Echevarria pushed ‘RHOM’ producers to show more of son Frankie’s recovery | Page Six
February 17, 2022
E-wTaN9NfkI
Pete Davidson rejoins Instagram amid Kanye West drama | Page Six Celebrity News
February 17, 2022
SsC3dmsI6t4
Aaron Rodgers And Shailene Woodley Reportedly Break Up | TMZ LIVE
February 17, 2022
FoErdRE8Qe4
Chet Hanks Done Talking About Famous Parents, Becoming Personal Trainer | TMZ
February 16, 2022
5_UrULOkQ6o
Woman Stabbed at Foot Locker During Nike Shoe Release
February 16, 2022
TfuXMs1JdVg
Steph's Freaky Side, "Summer House" & "Love During Lockup"
February 17, 2022
9W_raO0zlA8
Tay or Nay, Offset's Sushi Anxiety & Nick on Monogamy
February 17, 2022
PauYHpJRA6o
Kim Kardashian & North West TWINNING in Matching Pajamas | E! News
February 17, 2022
b-_Oib6R108
Adam McKay - Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony
February 17, 2022
tYtzsHoOZzo
Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, and the Cast of 'Uncharted' Talk Most Challenging Stunts
February 15, 2022
d3ksX-SKi8c
Ryan Reynolds and Walker Scobell on ‘The Adam Project’, ‘Deadpool’, and Possible ‘Star Wars’ Role
February 16, 2022
5TxJsbJr9Dk
TV Schedule
Late Night Show
Watch the latest shows of U.S. top comedians

Sports

Latest sport results, news, videos, interviews and comments
Latest Events
04
May
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Playoffs
Seattle Sounders - Pumas
04
May
USA: Major League Soccer
FC Cincinnati - Toronto FC
03
May
ENGLAND: Championship
Bournemouth - Nottingham Forest
02
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Brentford
02
May
ENGLAND: Championship
Fulham - Luton
02
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Getafe - Real Betis
02
May
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Bayer Leverkusen - Eintracht Frankfurt
02
May
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Borussia Monchengladbach - RB Leipzig
02
May
ITALY: Serie A
Atalanta - Salernitana
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur - Leicester City
01
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Mallorca
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Roma - Bologna
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
West Ham United - Arsenal
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Everton - Chelsea
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Udinese - Inter Milan
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
AC Milan - Fiorentina
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Juventus - Venezia
01
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Rayo Vallecano - Real Sociedad
30
Apr
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Mainz - Bayern Munich
30
Apr
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Borussia Dortmund - Bochum
30
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Newcastle United - Liverpool
30
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Athletic Bilbao - Atletico Madrid
30
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Leeds - Manchester City
30
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Madrid - Espanyol
30
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Napoli - Sassuolo
28
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Chelsea
27
Apr
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Semifinal
Liverpool - Villarreal
27
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Bologna - Inter Milan
26
Apr
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Semifinal
Manchester City - Real Madrid
25
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Sassuolo - Juventus
24
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Rayo Vallecano
24
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Lazio - AC Milan
24
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Liverpool - Everton
24
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Chelsea - West Ham United
24
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Empoli - Napoli
23
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Brentford - Tottenham Hotspur
Find us on Instagram
at @feedimo to stay up to date with the latest.
Featured Video You Might Like
zWJ3MxW_HWA L1eLanNeZKg i1XRgbyUtOo -g9Qziqbif8 0vmRhiLHE2U JFCZUoa6MYE UfN5PCF5EUo 2PV55f3-UAg W3y9zuI_F64 -7qCxIccihU pQ9gcOoH9R8 g5MRDEXRk4k
Copyright © 2020 Feedimo. All Rights Reserved.