Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

Horizon Air worker accused of stealing, crashing plane had Alaska ties

Horizon Air worker accused of stealing, crashing plane had Alaska ties

He and his wife, who he met in 2010, ran a bakery until it closed in 2015.

John Waldron, who captured the plane's loop-the-loop on video, told CNN he was out for an evening stroll and initially thought the aircraft were practicing for an air show.

Richard Russell: "Nah, I mean I don't need that much help".

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said on Twitter that preliminary information suggested that a mechanic had stolen the aircraft.

"He did go up there without a objective other than what he did do", Tilden said.

Alaska Airlines said that it was aware of an unauthorized take-off of the airplane operated by a sister carrier Horizon Air.

The plane was taken from a maintenance position and was not scheduled for a passenger flight, said Gary Beck, Horizon Air's president and chief executive officer.

Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West. Two military F-15s were scrambled to pursue the plane, but were not involved in the crash.

On Friday around 7:32 p.m., he got in the cockpit of an empty 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off without authorization. An airline employee had stolen a 78-seat turboprop airliner and conducted a risky joyride, complete with loops and other stunts. There were no passengers aboard.

NBC reported that the man expressed distress about his mental health while communicating with the air traffic control tower. But ... the air traffic controller had to tell him how to set what they call the "bugs" - they're just little sort of little levers, or little notches on your indicator for your heading ... which is kind of basic.

In another exchange, one controller tried to guide him towards a nearby runway at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but he refused to steer towards the USAF airfield, replying: "Oh man, those people will rough me up if I try to land there".

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"Got a few screws loose, I guess", he is heard saying in the recording.

On Facebook, Rich, who again used the name Beebo Russell, wrote that he lives in Sumner, Washington, was from Wasilla, Alaska, and was married to Hannah Russell, who works as an assistant pastry chef and waitress, according to her social media account.

There were no reports of injuries on the ground, he said, except presumably the pilot.

Friends and colleagues of the 29-year-old said they were struggling to reconcile the rogue pilot - whose actions closed an worldwide airport and sent F-15 fighters scrambling into the air - with the likeable young man they knew.

It's unclear how he attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft before crashing about an hour after taking off into a small island in the Puget Sound, authorities said.

Troyer said the man who stole the plane is a mechanic at the airport.

Normal operations at Sea-Tac resumed around 9:30 Friday night.

About an hour and 10 minutes later, airline and law-enforcement officials say, a Horizon ground-crew employee, Richard Russell, crashed the plane he had commandeered into a wooded area of Ketron Island in south Puget Sound.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a 45-foot vessel to the crash scene. Ketron Island is a sparsely populated island 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the airport.

Tilden said the system in place is to credential and secure employees and air fields, but not planes.

Dave Leval contributed information to this story.

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