A man who stole an empty passenger plane from Seattle airport and then crashed it was an airline worker with full credentials.
Airport authorities said, the 29-year-old Richard Russell had worked for Horizon Air for more than three years, towing and tidying aircraft and loading bags.
The 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop plane took off without authorization at 7:32 p.m. local time Friday, with Russell, who was not a pilot, at the controls, officials said.
After Russell talked periodically with air traffic controllers for about an hour, the plane crashed at Ketron Island,officials said. The FBI is carrying out the investigation.
According to CNN relatives of Richard Russell say they are “stunned and heartbroken” after the airline worker stole a passenger plane Friday from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and was killed when he crashed 25 miles away.
“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.”
The statement said Russell, 29, was “a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.”
Referring to audio recordings of Russell talking to air traffic control during his hour-long flight, the statement said his “intent was not to harm anyone. He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”
Russell, a Horizon Air ground service agent for three and a half years, was the only person aboard the plane, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said. The job of a ground service agent includes directing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, handling baggage and tidying and de-icing planes, authorities said.
The incident, which the FBI’s Seattle office did not consider terrorism, raises questions about airport security. Investigators headed Saturday to the crash site to recover the plane’s data recorders and Russell’s remains as part of a criminal probe, authorities said.
F-15 jets chased the plane
The plane was a Q400, a Bombardier turboprop plane, one of about 40 the airline has in its fleet.
Within minutes of the plane’s takeoff, the military scrambled two armed F-15 jets from Oregon to follow it, according to local and airline authorities and two sources with knowledge of the situation. They pursued the aircraft before it went down on Ketron Island, between Tacoma and Olympia.
“NORAD fighters did not fire upon the aircraft,” North American Aerospace Defense Command said Saturday morning in a news release. The jets’ capability was appropriate to the potential task, one of the sources said, without offering details.