'Suicidal' worker steals, crashes empty plane from Seattle airport
Seattle: A 29-year-old "suicidal" airport worker who commandeered an empty plane from Seattle's main airport and took it on an hour-long flight chased by F-15 fighter jets before crashing into a small island did not commit any security violations, officials said.
Horizon Air employee Richard Russell told an air traffic controller he was "just a broken man" minutes before dying late Friday in the Bombardier Q400 twin-engine turboprop plane, appearing to apologize for his actions. Law enforcement officials identified him to US media. Authorities ruled out any link to terror. But consternation grew over the safety gaps that allowed an airport worker to easily gain access to a commercial airliner and fly it over a major metropolitan area.
"Everybody's stunned... that something like this would happen," said recently retired Horizon operational supervisor Rick Christenson. "How could it? Everybody's been through background checks."
Russell "had access legitimately" to the plane, said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport in the northwestern US state of Washington, adding that "no security violations were committed."
Video taken by a bystander showed the 76-seat plane making a big, slow loop-the-loop as US Air Force F-15 jets gave chase, then flying low over Puget Sound before crashing into sparsely populated Ketron Island, setting trees on fire.
"To our knowledge, he didn't have a pilot's license," Gary Beck, CEO of Alaska Airlines affiliate Horizon, told reporters. "Commercial aircraft are complex machines... No idea how he achieved that experience." But Russell's role at Horizon, where he had worked since 2015, involved towing aircraft as part of a two person team, in addition to loading and unloading cargo and luggage and cleaning the aircraft, according to Beck.
"At this time, we believe he was the only one in the aircraft but of course, we haven't confirmed that at the crash site," said Jay Tabb, chief of the FBI's Seattle division.
Ruling out a terror link, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor noted that "most terrorists don't do loops over the water... This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong."