An airline employee stole an empty plane that he eventually crashed into an island near Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport. Listen to his final moments as he talks back and forth with air traffic control.
The family of a man who authorities say stole an airplane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday and died when he later crashed it later said they were “stunned and heartbroken” and called him “a warm and compassionate man.”
In a statement, the family said Richard Russell, whose nickname was “Beebo,” was a faithful husband, loving son and good friend.
“As the voice recording show, Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone and he was right in saying that there are so many people who loved him,” the statement read.
Russell is presumed dead. Authorities don’t know why he took the plane, but he could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy.”
The 29-year-old worked for Horizon Air, helping to handle luggage and towing aircraft. Authorities say he had worked Friday, and was in uniform, when he got into the cockpit of a Horizon Airlines Bombardier Q400 plane and took off for an hourlong joyride.
He is believed to have died when the plane crashed into Ketron Island, about 30 miles south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, setting off a large forest fire. Authorities say he was suicidal.
In a humorous YouTube video he posted last year, he talked about his job and included videos and photos of his various travels.
“I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags,” he said.
“He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers,” former coworker Rick Christenson told The Seattle Times. “I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this.”
Christenson told the newspaper he watched the plane and its dangerous stunts, not knowing that the pilot was his former coworker. When he saw smoke rising from the woods, he realized the worst had happened.
A blog that appears to have belonged to Russell details that he was born in Key West, Florida, but moved to Alaska with his family when he was very young.
He wrote on the blog that he met his wife, Hannah, in Oregon when they were both attending school. They owned a bakery shop and settled down in Sumner, Washington, in 2015, which is when he got his job at Horizon Air.
Russell says on the blog that he liked his job because it allowed him to travel back to Alaska to see his family.
“In this season of life, we enjoy exploring as much as possible, whether its a day (or so) trip to one of Alaska Airline’s destinations or visiting a new area of Washington,” he wrote. “We consider ourselves bakery connoisseurs and have to try a new one every place we go.”
He also included photos of his wedding and traveling he’d done in the mountains and other sites he’d seen, including some ancient ruins. Russell ended the section “about” section of the blog with his dreams for the future: Moving up to become a manager at Horizon Air or joining the military as an officer.
One air traffic controller called the man “Rich,” and tried to persuade him to land the airplane. “There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” the controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” Russell responded, later adding, “This is probably jail time for life, huh?”
Later the man said: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this … just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
Christenson told The Seattle Times it was difficult to listen to the audio as Russell communicated with an air traffic controller.
“It’s chilling listening to this young man. It makes me cringe,” he said. “It was hard to sleep last night.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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