SEVERE WX : Fire Weather Watch View Alerts

A stolen plane, a devastated family and a nation questioning airport security gaps

A heist and deadly crash of a passenger plane in the Seattle area has left the family of the airport employe...

Posted: Aug 13, 2018 4:18 AM
Updated: Aug 13, 2018 4:18 AM

A heist and deadly crash of a passenger plane in the Seattle area has left the family of the airport employee who stole the plane devastated and the nation questioning the vulnerability of airport security.

Richard Russell took off in a stolen plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night, flew for about an hour with military jets chasing him and crashed the 76-seater Horizon Air plane in a wooded island, authorities said.

Accidents

Accidents, disasters and safety

Air transportation

Air transportation safety

Aircraft

Aircraft accidents

Airports

Aviation and aerospace industry

Aviation security

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Safety issues and practices

Transportation and warehousing

Travel and tourism

Travel safety and security

Continents and regions

North America

Northwestern United States

Seattle

The Americas

United States

Washington (State)

Accident investigations

Investigations

Airlines

Russell was the only person aboard, and did not survive, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department said.

In a statement, his family said his "intent was not to harm anyone," referring to audio recordings of Russell talking to air traffic control during the flight.

"This is a complete shock to us," the family said in a statement Saturday night. "We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now."

Richard Russell worked at Horizon Air for years

Russell had worked as a Horizon Air ground service agent for three-and-a-half years. His job included directing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, handling baggage and tidying and de-icing planes.

Richard Russell, or "Beebo" as some called him, was "a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend," his family said.

The 29-year-old was "kind and gentle to each person he met," his family said in a statement Saturday night.

Officials don't believe Russell had a pilot's license, and they don't know how he knew to fly the plane. Jeremy Kaelin said he worked with Russell in 2016, and remembered "happy, funny" chats with him in the break room.

"He was a nice guy," Kaelin said. "He was definitely one of the harder working people on the ramps."

F-15s did not bring the plane down.

Russell had worked a shift Friday when he took a plane parked in a maintenance area of the Seattle-Tacoma airport, said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group, which owns Horizon Air.

He used a vehicle known as a pushback tractor to move the empty 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off without authorization at 7:32 p.m. local time Friday, officials said.

Russell flew for about an hour, talking periodically with air traffic controllers and making turns and even some aerobatic maneuvers as two armed F-15 jets followed him, officials said.

Video from a witness on the ground shows the plane at one point pulling up for a loop, putting the aircraft upside-down and then pulling back up just feet above a body of water.

The plane eventually crashed on sparsely populated Ketron Island, starting a fire in the woods and killing Russell. No one outside the plane was injured, officials said.

The cause of the crash wasn't immediately known but authorities said the F-15s did not bring the plane down.

Gaps in airline security

While the crash only killed Russell, the brazen stealing of a commercial airline from a major US airport has exposed a gap in airline security.

FBI said it does not consider the incident terror-related as authorities try to piece together how a security scare of that magnitude occurred at major airport.

Investigators on Saturday were trying to retrieve the plane's flight data recorder and its cockpit voice recorder.

"He might have been talking to himself in the cockpit," so the voice recorder may provide additional information that wasn't recorded in radio traffic, said Debra Eckrote, regional chief for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Experts say the crash exposed alarming gaps in airport security, and is likely to prompt a major review industry security measures.

"This is going to be a major learning event for the industry," CNN aviation analyst Justin Green said. "This is a really big deal."

Russell managed to steal a 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop from a maintenance area by himself. He was in uniform, had proper credentials and had clearance to be in secure aircraft areas, according to Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines CEO.

"They're credential employees. They're there to work on the airplanes. ... This is aviation in America. The doors of the airplanes are not keyed like a car. There is not an ignition key like a car. The setup in aviation in America is we secure the airfield," Tilden told reporters Saturday.

He appeared to have broken protocol several times. He shouldn't have been able to board the plane alone and go unnoticed. He also moved the plane by himself while protocol calls for two people to tow an aircraft.

"The fact he was out there by himself, towing the aircraft by himself ... then moving the tracker out of the way, so he could get on the aircraft and move. The fact that all of that happened without even being noticed by anyone on the ground service crew, that is just phenomenal to me," said CNN analyst and former FAA safety inspector David Soucie.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 324543

Reported Deaths: 7051
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1335493809
Riverside24765537
Orange24715423
San Diego19371422
San Bernardino19043306
Fresno828288
Imperial7827135
Alameda7731148
Kern650297
Santa Clara6298166
San Joaquin627968
Tulare5678152
Sacramento548983
Stanislaus473251
Contra Costa466190
San Francisco452250
Ventura424653
San Mateo3949112
Santa Barbara393131
Marin343430
Kings291839
Monterey268218
Solano207528
Merced188412
Sonoma170316
Placer107711
San Luis Obispo9054
Madera8938
Yolo88428
Santa Cruz5693
Napa4774
Sutter3884
San Benito3622
Butte3384
Lassen3370
El Dorado3070
Shasta1956
Yuba1923
Humboldt1654
Glenn1640
Nevada1631
Colusa1130
Mendocino1130
Lake1081
Tehama1071
Tuolumne730
Calaveras670
Del Norte600
Mono511
Siskiyou410
Amador400
Inyo351
Mariposa311
Plumas170
Alpine20
Trinity20
Sierra10
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 99° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Oroville
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 99° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Paradise
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 84°
Chester
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 69°
Red Bluff
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 102° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 83°
Willows
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 103° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 84°
A seasonably hot beginning to the workweek for northern California, and hotter weather is in the short term forecast, with very little relief in the long term.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events