Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Economy | By

Family of airline worker who crashed stolen plane 'shocked'

Family of airline worker who crashed stolen plane 'shocked'

The airline worker who stole an empty airplane from a Seattle airport on a flight that ended in his death once ran a bakery with his wife and enjoyed the benefits that came with his job to travel the world, social media posts showed.

The aircraft then crashed into Ketron Island, 40 km to the southwest of the Seattle/Tacoma Airport.

The plane crash, according to fire officials in the area, resulted in a fire that has since been upgraded to a 2nd alarm response. The 29-year-old man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first maneuver the aircraft so he could board and then take off Friday evening, authorities added.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said the man, who has been identified as Richard Russell, was 29 years old and "suicidal".

Sheriff Paul A. Pastor said at the press conference that there was no sign that it was a terrorist attack.

Russell worked for Horizon Airlines, a sister carrier of Alaska Airlines, as a ground service agent who helped baggage handlers and was part of Horizon's tow team, which moved planes around on the tarmac.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Alaska Airlines were headed to Ketron Island on Saturday morning to gather evidence from the site where a Horizon employee crashed a stolen airplane.

The Alaska Airlines plane that was stolen by an airline employee from Seattle-Tacoma International airport has crashed in Washington's South Puget Sound.

As federal agencies investigate, state and airline officials responded to the odd and tragic event with sympathy and thanks. 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.

Airline officials said the ground service agent had a certification to tow aircraft, which results in a higher security clearance than other ground agents. The still unidentified man, who was a Horizon Air employee, is believed to have been the only person aboard the plane when it crashed.

"Safety is our number one goal", Alaska Airlines chief executive Brad Tilden said.

"I've got a lot of people that care about me, and it's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this", the man said.

Richard Bloom, an aviation security expert at Arizona's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said he wasn't aware of another incident in which a ground crew member managed to heist an airplane.

"I would like to apologise to each and every one of them", he is heard saying in the recording. Flights resumed at about the same time the crash occurred, the airport said in a statement.

It's unclear if Russell knew how to fly but the plane audio between Russell and the control tower seem to suggest that he didn't know how to fly the plane he was operating.

Video showed fiery flames amid trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry.

A fire sparked by the Friday night crash "is pretty much out", Eckrote added.

"It is highly fragmented", she said of the plane. I think I might mess something up there too.

On Saturday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told media that President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident and is now "monitoring the situation" in Seattle.

The FBI is investigating the weird incident in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and local law enforcement.

Royal King of Mukilteo was photographing a wedding at Lake Steilacoom when he saw the low-flying plane and two fighter jets trailing it.

An FBI official said they were in touch with the deceased employee's family last night after the crash.

"It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie", he said.

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