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Suicidal Seattle airport worker identified as Richard Russell


The man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane in Seattle on Friday night taking it for a joyride before crashing on an island in a ball of flames has been identified as Richard Russell, a married 29-year-old Horizon Air employee.

Russell has worked for Horizon Air at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for nearly four years, according to his LinkedIn account, as a ground service agent and an operations agent. 

Authorities have yet to confirm the hijacker’s identity, although Russell’s Facebook friends and a co-worker announced the news early Saturday morning.  

Russell, who authorities called ‘suicidal’, hijacked an empty 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop Q400 around 8pm on Friday after taking the aircraft from the maintenance area. 

Richard Russell, 29, has been identified as the man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane at a Seattle airport on Friday night 

Richard Russell, 29, has been identified as the man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane at a Seattle airport on Friday night 

Russell has worked for Horizon Air at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for nearly four years, according to his LinkedIn account, as a ground service agent and an operations agent 

Russell, 29, married his wife Hannah in 2011 after meeting in school the year before

Russell, 29, married his wife Hannah in 2011 after meeting in school the year before

Russell posted several videos on his blog showing him and his wife (pictured) traveling around the globe

It remains unclear how he was able to gain access to the aircraft and fly it out of the airport undetected. Officials said during a press conference on Saturday that Russell used a push back tractor to rotate the plane 180 degrees before take off. 

Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck told reporters that he does not believe Russell had a pilot license. 

‘We don’t know how he learned to do that,’ Beck said when asked how Russell was able to perform loop-the-loop and barrels while flying the aircraft. ‘Commercial aircraft are complex machines. No idea how he achieved that experience.’

Horizon Air COO Constance von Muehlen said in a video statement late Friday night that ‘our hearts are with the family of the individual onboard as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees’.

Russell was born in Key West, Florida and moved to Alaska when he was seven years old, according to a 2017 blog post. He met his wife, Hannah, in 2010 while they were both in school and married one year later. It doesn’t appear that they had any children.

According to Russell’s blog, he and Hannah opened a bakery called Hannah Marie’s Bakery in North Bend, Oregon and ran it for three years.

In 2015, the couple relocated to Seattle ‘because we were both so far removed from our families’, Russell wrote.

‘Failing to convince Hannah of Alaska’s greatness, we settled on Sumner because of its close proximity to her family,’ he posted.

While living in Seattle, Russell started working for Horizon Air writing that he enjoyed being able to travel to Alaska in his spare time. Russel, who was pursuing his bachelor’s degree for social sciences from Washington State University, said he wanted to move up in his company to one day work in a management position.

The Horizon Air worker, however, also had other dreams, writing on his blog that he was considering becoming a military officer.

Russell’s blog is filled with pictures of him and his wife traveling across the globe. The 29-year-old also shared pictures from his wedding day and several videos showcasing what he does at work.

In one video, apparently for a class project, Russell introduces himself as ‘Beebo Russell’ and says he ‘lifts a lot of bags’ at his job.

‘Like a lot of bags,’ he says. ‘So many bags.’

He went on to say that because of his job he’s been able to visit places like France, Idaho, Mexico, Ireland and Alaska. Russell ended the nearly two-minute long video by sharing photos of his family members, none of which have publicly commented on the incident.       

Russell said in a blog post that he and his wife met in Oregon and moved to Seattle in 2015

Russell said in a blog post that he and his wife met in Oregon and moved to Seattle in 2015

It does not appear that Russell and his wife had children. The couple are pictured together in a Facebook photo 

It does not appear that Russell and his wife had children. The couple are pictured together in a Facebook photo 

Pictured above is Russell at what appears to be at a wedding. He posted the photo at the end of one of his YouTube videos 

Pictured above is Russell at what appears to be at a wedding. He posted the photo at the end of one of his YouTube videos 

Rich’s main role as a ground service agent was to load and unload bags, direct aircraft for takeoff, and de-ice planes in the winter. 

According to a job posting, ground service agents are paid roughly $13.75 an hour and as a full-time employee they receive benefits, travel privileges for themselves and family members and are eligible for a bonus program.    

Nowhere in the job description does it mention that ground service agents are permitted to fly planes.   

During a press conference on Saturday morning NTSB investigator Debra Eckrote said they are trying to determine ‘what his process was and where the aircraft was going’.

‘He’s ground support so, you know, they have access to aircraft,’ she said, adding that that we’re ‘very lucky’ the plane went on a ‘very underpopulated island’.  

She said the plane came to rest in a thick underbrush on Ketron Island, and first responders had to ‘blaze a trail’ to get to the wreckage. 

Eckrote said the plane is ‘highly fragmented’ and the wings were torn off in the collision. She said responders could not identify a lot Friday night because there was a fire, but they were taking Saturday to ‘focus on the areas that we’re looking for’. 

Eckrote called the incident ‘very usual’ and said the FBI were doing a background check on Russell to determine a motive.    

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Saturday morning that president Trump was briefed on the incident and was monitoring the situation. She also praised the response effort for its ‘swift action’ and ensuring public safety.

The hijacked Horizon Air Q400, which took off from Seattle-Tacoma Airport before crashing 25 miles away in south Puget Sound

The crash site at south Puget Sound

These images show the hijacked Horizon Air Q400 which took off from Seattle-Tacoma Airport on Friday before crashing 25 miles away in south Puget Sound (left, in the air; right, after the crash)

Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland 'minutes later' to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff's Office. Pictured is the hijacked plane, top, and one of the F-15s beneath it

Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland ‘minutes later’ to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. Pictured is the hijacked plane, top, and one of the F-15s beneath it

Smoke and an orange glow are seen on Ketron Island in Washington state, where the plane eventually crash landed

Smoke and an orange glow are seen on Ketron Island in Washington state, where the plane eventually crash landed

During the hijacking Friday night at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Rich joked with air traffic controllers for more than 20 minutes before crashing the plane into an island 25 miles away.

The 29-year-old took off in the 76-seater Horizon Air turboprop Q400 about 8pm after he took it from a maintenance area.

At one point, Rich asked air traffic controllers: ‘Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?’

The air traffic controller, trying to keep him on side, replied ‘you know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off’, to which Rich replied: ‘Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy.’

Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland ‘minutes’ after the plane took off to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. 

Witnesses described seeing the aircraft performing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops as the military planes directed it away from highly-populated areas and towards Ketron Island, where it crashed into a ball of flame. 

While still in the air, the pilot was heard telling traffic controllers he was ‘just a broken guy’ before telling them he was preparing for ‘jail time for life’. 

Police blamed ‘doing stunts in the air and a lack of flying skills’ for the crash.

Air traffic controllers begged Rich to land the plane and tried to give him directions to a runway where he could put the plane down in one piece.

‘This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me,’ he responded.

Sheriff Paul Pastor confirmed the incident was ‘not terrorist related’ and described it as ‘a joyride gone terribly wrong’. He said the man ‘did something foolish and may well have paid with his life’. 

In a statement just before midnight, Alaska Airlines said a ground service agent took an out-of-service plane without clearance. Part of a ground service agents job is to direct and de-ice planes, as well as managing luggage.

The aircraft was not scheduled for passenger flights, they added.   

Police officers standing at a staging ground at the ferry terminal in Steilacoom. Questions will now be asked about security at the airport and how an unqualified worker was given access to the plane

Police officers standing at a staging ground at the ferry terminal in Steilacoom. Questions will now be asked about security at the airport and how an unqualified worker was given access to the plane

During the air traffic controllers’ talk with Rich, they tried unsuccessfully to get him to land the plane.   

‘There is the runway just off your right side in about a mile, do you see that?’ the traffic controller said.

‘Oh those guys will try to rough me up if I try land there…,’ Rich replied. ‘I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn’t want to do that. Oh they probably have got anti-aircraft.’

‘They don’t have any of that stuff, we are just trying to find you a place to land safely,’ the traffic controller responded.

 Rich told the air traffic controller he wasn’t ‘quite ready’ to bring the plane down. 

‘But holy smokes I need to stop looking at the fuel ‘cos it’s going down quick,’ he added.

‘OK, Rich, if you could, could you start a left-hand turn and we’ll take you down to the south-east,’ the traffic controller said. 

‘This is probably jail time for life, huh?’ Rich replied. ‘I would hope it is for a guy like me.’

Ketron Island, where the plane went down, is a densely wooded area home to 24 people, according to the 2000 census. None of the island’s residents were thought to have been harmed.

The terrifying incident has left many questioning the airport’s security and how an unqualified worker was given access to the plane. It is also unclear how he was able to take off unhindered.

Royal King told The Seattle Times he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by to F-15s. He said he didn’t see the crash but saw smoke.

‘It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie,’ he told the newspaper. ‘The smoke lingered. You could still hear the F-15s, which were flying low.’

The airport was shut down for about an hour and a half and flights were suspended as officials dealt with the hijacked plane. Planes already on the runway were ordered to stay put.

A Twitter user named ‘Victoria’ wrote that she was sitting in a plane on the runway awaiting more news from the pilot, who had explained another aircraft had been hijacked. Victoria tweeted about 20 minutes later that her plane was taxiing off the runway.

Images from the airport terminal showed hundreds of Air Alaska Airlines passengers queuing with their baggage and awaiting information. 


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Images taken at the crash site on Ketron Island showed the remains of the aircraft engulfed by flames. No one on the island is thought to have been harmed

Images taken at the crash site on Ketron Island showed the remains of the aircraft engulfed by flames. No one on the island is thought to have been harmed

Emergency services vehicles at the ferry terminal in Steilacoom, Washington, on Friday evening, near by the suspected crash site

Emergency services vehicles at the ferry terminal in Steilacoom, Washington, on Friday evening, near by the suspected crash site

‘I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before’: Employee speaks to air traffic control moments before crash

Shortly after the plane took off, traffic controllers were heard on an Internet livestream speaking to a man identified as ‘Rich’.

‘There is the runway just off your right side in about a mile, do you see that?’ the traffic controller said.

‘Oh those guys will try to rough me up if I try land there…,’ Rich replied. ‘I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn’t want to do that. Oh they probably have got anti-aircraft.’

‘They don’t have any of that stuff, we are just trying to find you a place to land safely.’

‘Yeah, not quite ready to bring it down just yet, but holy smokes I need to stop looking at the fuel ‘cos it’s going down quick.’

‘OK, Rich, if you could, could you start a left-hand turn and we’ll take you down to the south-east.’

‘This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me. ‘  

 

Rich: I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. 

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

 

Rich: I’m down to 2,100, I started at like 30-something. 

Air traffic control: Rich, you said you had 2,100 pounds of fuel left? 

Rich: Yeah, I don’t know what the burnage, burnout? Is like on a takeoff, but yeah, it’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected.

 

Air traffic control: Right now he’s just flying around, and he just needs some help controlling the aircraft.

Rich: Nah I mean, I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before. I would like to figure out how to get this… make it pressurized or something so I’m not lightheaded.

 

Rich: Ah minimum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a little bit with the higher-ups

 

Rich: Damnit Andrew, people’s lives are at stake here.

Air traffic control: Ah Rich, don’t say stuff like that.

Rich: I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want you to whisper sweet nothings into my ear.

 

Rich: Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot? 

Air traffic control: You know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off. 

Rich: Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy

 

Air traffic control: If you wanted to land, probably your best bet is that runway just ahead and to your left. Again, that’s McCourt (sic) Field. 

If you wanted to try, that might be the best way to set up and see if you can land there. Or just like the pilot’s suggestion, the other option might be over Puget Sound, into the water. 

Rich: Dang, did you talk to McCourt, cause I don’t know if I’d be happy with you telling me I could land like that, cause I could really mess some stuff up. 

Air traffic control: Well Rich I already talked to ’em. Just like me, what we want to see is you not get hurt, or anyone else get hurt. So if you want to try to land, that’s the way to go. 

Rich: Hey I want the coordinates of that orca, you know, the mama orca with the baby. I want to see that guy.

 

Rich: Hey, is that pilot on? I want to know what this weather is going to be like in the Olympics (mountains). 

Air traffic control: Well, if you can see the Olympics, the weather’s good. I can see the Olympics from my window, and it looks pretty good over there. 

Rich: Alright, ’cause I felt some, what felt like turbulence around Rainer, but there was no clouds hardly. 

Air traffic control: Oh, that’s just the wind blowing over all over the bumpy surfaces there.

 

Captain Bill: Alright Rich, this is Captain Bill. Congratulations, you did that, now let’s try to land that airplane safely and not hurt anyone on the ground. 

Rich: Alright, damnit, I don’t know man, I don’t know. I don’t want to… I was kind of hoping that would be it, you know.

 

Rich: I’m gonna land it, in a safe kind of manner. I think I’m gonna try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes good, I’m just gonna nose down and call it a night. 

Air traffic control: Well Rich, before you do that, let’s think about this. I’ve got another pilot coming up, pilot Joel, in just a minute here I hope. And we’ll be able to give you some advice on what to do next.

 

Rich: I feel like one of my engines is going out or something.

Air traffic control: OK Rich, if you could, you just want to keep that plane right over the water. Maybe keep the aircraft nice and low.

 

Rich: Just kind of lightheaded, dizzy. Man, the sights went by so fast. I was thinking, like, I’m going to have this moment of serenity, take in all the sights. There’s a lot of pretty stuff, but they’re prettier in a different context.

 

Air traffic control: Do you have any idea of how much fuel you have left? 

Rich: Oh man, not enough. Not enough to get by. Like, uh, 760? 760 pounds?

 

Air traffic control: Just flying around the plane, you seem comfortable with that?

Rich: Oh hell yeah, it’s a blast. I’ve played video games before so I know what I’m doing a little bit.

 

Air traffic control: OK, and you can see all the terrain around you, you’ve got no issue with visibility or anything?

Rich: Naw, everything’s peachy, peachy clean. Just did a little circle around Rainer, it’s beautiful. I think I’ve got some gas to go check out the Olympics (mountains).

 

Rich: I wouldn’t know how to land it, I wasn’t really planning on landing it.

 

Rich: Sorry, my mic came off, I threw up a little bit. I’m sorry about this, I hope this doesn’t ruin your day.

 

Rich: Man, have you been to the Olympics? These guys are gorgeous, holy smokes.

Air traffic control: Ya, I have been out there, it’s always a nice drive.

Rich: (inaudible)

Air traffic control: Hey I bet you do. I haven’t done much hiking over there. But if you could start a left turn, and back towards the east. I know you’re getting a good view there, but if you go too much farther in that direction I won’t be able to hear you anymore.

Rich: Hey pilot guy, can this thing do a backflip, you think?

 

Rich: I wouldn’t mind just shooting the s**t with you guys, but it’s all business, you know?  

Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon Air, confirmed that the plane had taken off without permission and later crashed on Ketron Island

Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon Air, confirmed that the plane had taken off without permission and later crashed on Ketron Island

Police said the pilot was a 29-year-old employee from Pierce County, Washington. They said he was acting alone and was 'suicidal'. His name has not yet been released

Police said the pilot was a 29-year-old employee from Pierce County, Washington. They said he was acting alone and was ‘suicidal’. His name has not yet been released

The FBI released a statement just before midnight in Seattle that they did not anticipate any further details tonight

The FBI released a statement just before midnight in Seattle that they did not anticipate any further details tonight

A map showing Ketron Island, a heavily wooded area inhabited by 24 people, according to the 2000 census

Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) airport said in a statement: ‘An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed.’

Alaska Airlines said: ‘We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more.’ 

‘This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info… this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved,’ the Pierce County Sheriff said. 

The Federal Aviation Administration said: ‘We can’t confirm anything at this time. We’re trying to get accurate information about what is actually going on. Without confirming anything, a stolen aircraft would be a security issue.

‘The FAA is not a security agency, although we work closely with other government agencies on security issues.’ 

The incident is now being investigated by the FBI and military. It is thought to be the first fatal incident in the US involving a commercial airliner since 9/11. 

Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. 

Sea-Tac is the ninth busiest airport in the US, and flew 46.9 million passengers and more than 425,800 metric tons of air cargo in 2017.  

  • For confidential support in the US call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255. 
  • For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.  
  • For confidential support in Australia call the Lifeline 24-hour crisis support on 13 11 14.

 

A Twitter user called 'Victoria' wrote that she was sitting in a plane on the runway awaiting more news from the pilot, who had explained another aircraft had been hijacked

A Twitter user called ‘Victoria’ wrote that she was sitting in a plane on the runway awaiting more news from the pilot, who had explained another aircraft had been hijacked

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following the hijacking incident, which grounded planes and led to several flights being delayed

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following the hijacking incident, which grounded planes and led to several flights being delayed

The airport was shut for around an hour and a half as the incident was dealt with. During this time, flights were suspended and planes already on the runway ordered to stay put

The airport was shut for around an hour and a half as the incident was dealt with. During this time, flights were suspended and planes already on the runway ordered to stay put

Images from the airport terminal showed hundreds of Air Alaska Airlines passengers queuing with their baggage and awaiting information

Images from the airport terminal showed hundreds of Air Alaska Airlines passengers queuing with their baggage and awaiting information

Air Alaska planes sit on the tarmac at the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Air Alaska planes sit on the tarmac at the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma

Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident where an airline employee took off in an airplane, at Seattle-Tacoma

Two Air Alaska employees in high-visibility jackets walk through the terminal amid passengers who were waiting with their luggage

Two Air Alaska employees in high-visibility jackets walk through the terminal amid passengers who were waiting with their luggage

A large Alaska Air aircraft maintenance building is viewed on takeoff from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in this undated file photo

A large Alaska Air aircraft maintenance building is viewed on takeoff from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in this undated file photo



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