STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Co-worker of man who stole plane speaks out

The friend of a man who stole and crashed a plane in Seattle speaks to CNN's Dan Simon.

Posted: Aug 13, 2018 12:29 PM
Updated: Aug 13, 2018 12:56 PM

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.

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.

West Lafayette
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 63°
Kokomo
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 62°
Rensselaer
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 59°
Fowler
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 59°
Williamsport
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 63°
Crawfordsville
Overcast
60° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 60°
Frankfort
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 63°
Delphi
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
Monticello
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 61°
Logansport
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
Dry Conditions To Continue
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 67857

Reported Deaths: 2975
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion14710719
Lake7037269
Elkhart458276
Allen3611157
St. Joseph311479
Hamilton2489104
Cass17509
Hendricks1742105
Vanderburgh170012
Johnson1648118
Porter117439
Tippecanoe109411
Clark107545
Madison84265
LaPorte82929
Kosciusko81612
Howard80464
Marshall74222
Bartholomew73847
Floyd68444
Monroe68430
Noble63528
Delaware63352
Boone63246
Dubois62412
Hancock61637
Jackson5514
LaGrange54210
Shelby50926
Warrick50230
Grant49629
Vigo46810
Dearborn46128
Morgan41832
Henry36118
Clinton3523
White34510
Montgomery33821
Lawrence32627
Wayne3159
Decatur31332
Harrison28922
Miami2582
Scott24710
Daviess24319
Greene23834
DeKalb2214
Putnam2218
Jennings20712
Franklin20510
Jasper2032
Steuben1993
Gibson1984
Ripley1887
Perry17112
Starke1647
Orange16324
Wabash1583
Posey1570
Fayette1547
Jefferson1492
Whitley1486
Fulton1442
Carroll1422
Wells1312
Knox1290
Huntington1183
Washington1151
Spencer1133
Newton10910
Tipton1065
Randolph1024
Clay975
Jay820
Adams812
Rush794
Owen781
Sullivan751
Pulaski711
Brown701
Fountain632
Benton600
Blackford532
Ohio504
Parke451
Pike450
Switzerland430
Crawford420
Martin420
Vermillion380
Union320
Warren191
Unassigned0200

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events