The man behind a recent plane hijacking caper at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport has been identified by Washington state law enforcement agencies.
As Friday came to a close on Aug. 10, 29-year-old Richard Russell made his way through the Seattle-Tacoma Airport where he then took control over an empty plane. He then flew the plane for approximately 60 minutes, ending his journey by crashing into a forest located on a neighboring island. The Pierce county resident reportedly acted alone and was deemed “suicidal.”
Russell was employed as a ground service agent for Horizon Air, which is owned by Alaska Airlines, for three and a half years. Duties for his job included making routine checks on aircraft, loading bags and cargo and towing aircrafts.
With some knowledge of the inner workings of aircrafts, Russell lifted off the runway without proper clearance at 7:32 p.m. and contact ceased at 8:47 p.m.
The chosen plane was in a “maintenance position,” as reported by the company, and was not scheduled to transport any passengers. Investigation officials believed that the suspect used a pushback tractor to move the plane to a desired position. Although it cannot be determined that Russell had any flight experience, the search for a pilot’s license turned up empty.
“It would be a series of switches and levers that would be used to start the engine,” said Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon Air. “We don’t know how he learned to do that.”
Beck also stated that “Commercial aircraft are complex machines” and that he was unsure how Russell “achieved the experience that he did.”
One local news reporter, Austin Jenkins, found his way to the crash site on Ketron Island later that night. The site of smoke, flames on the hillside, police boats circling and helicopters overhead were accounted for in his eyewitness report.
Through all the excitement, only Russell was harmed.Kreton Island is a remote area, and has a population of fewer than 24 people. The reported fire was quickly contained.
President Trump was briefed on the event and has not released a statement.
Russell released a statement to authorities apologizing to those that cared about him, dubbing himself “A broken guy who had a few screws loose. Didn’t really know it until now.”
During the aircraft theft, Russell held lighthearted conversation with air traffic controllers for more than 30 minutes and responded with “I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before,” when he was instructed on how and where to safely land the plane.
Russell’s safety as well as the safety of those on the ground was enforced by two military F-15s who started pursuing the plane a few minutes after theft. The plane hijacked was the Bombardier Q400, which is made for shorter flights, has 76 coach seats and measures about 108 feet long.
Normal operations have resumed at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Official charges have yet to be placed on Russell as the investigation continues.