Seattle plane thief clear knowledge of the loops, and other dangerous maneuvers is a mystery: researchers



The investigators search the site of Seattle plane crash

Family members of the airline employee who stole and crashed the plane release of a statement; Jeff Paul shares the latest details.

The 29-year-old man who stole a Horizon Air turboprop plane from Sea-Tac International Airport and crashed on an island in the Puget Sound on Friday night conducted a series of loops, and said that he would try a barrel roll — and now, researchers say they are trying to learn how he achieved the ability to perform dangerous maneuvers.

“If he had the skill to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly into a building and killing people on the ground,” said Erroll southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert.

Officials said Richard Russell — who was a football player, a wrestler and discus thrower in Wasilla High School in Alaska, which is a 3 1/2 year employee and Horizon had a gap between planes, but that to their knowledge, he was not a licensed pilot. He took the empty aircraft to a maintenance area.

Alaska Airlines said the suspect was a ground service agent in the service of the Horizon. Employees who direct aircraft take-off and gate approach and de-ice of aircraft, as well as the handling of the luggage.

Gary Beck, director of Horizon Air, said it is not clear how the man knew the start of the engine, whereby a series of switches and levers.

“I think I’m going to try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes well I’m going to nose down and call it a night,” Richard Russell said from the cockpit, to a recording of his conversation with the controller.

This undated image posted to Richard Russell’s YouTube channel shows Russell, an airline ground agent. Researchers are piecing together how Russell stole an empty commercial airplane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle, and crashed in a small island in the Puget Sound in Washington. (Richard Russell/YouTube via AP)

“The biggest threat we have in the aviation industry is the insider threat,” said southers. “Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a range of skills proficient enough to keep up with the plane.”

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400, a turboprop aircraft that seats 76 people, doing big loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun on Puget Sound. The flight took about 75 minutes, and ended Friday night, when Russell crashed in the small island after being chased by military aircraft. The two F-15C aircraft scrambled from Portland is not the fire of the plane, authorities said.

The plane crashed on the small Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Video showed the fiery flames amidst trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry. The researchers expect that they will be able to recover from both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder of the aircraft.

An air traffic controller was heard in audio recordings, trying to convince him to land the plane.

“There is a runway just off to the right in about a mile,” the controller said, referring to an airport in Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Oh man. These guys will rough me up if I try it and the country,” Russell responded, later adding, “This is probably the prison for life, eh?”

Later, Russell said: “I have a lot of people who care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this … Just a broken man, got a few screws loose, I think.”

Russell went by “Beebo” on social media and on his Facebook page, which had limited public access. He said that he was from Wasilla, Alaska, lived in Sumner, Washington, and was married in 2012.

In a funny YouTube video he posted last year he spoke about his work and included videos and photographs of his many travels.

“I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags,” he said.

The airline mechanic stunt many who knew him than by the shock.

Track and field coach Gary Howell of his high school said he was “absolutely the kind of kid you want on your team.”

“He had that energy, that vibrancy,” Howell said. “He was that boy a high-five in the hall, even if you don’t know him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a journalist and editor, covering sports, tech, military and geopolitical for He can be reached at

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