A MAN who stole and crashed a plane uploaded a final video to YouTube describing the life of a ground agent.
In the video, posted to YouTube in December last year, Richard Russell described his workplace while cheerful music played in the background.
“Hi, I’m Beebo Russell, and I’m a ground service agent,” he says. “That means I lift a lot of bags. Like, a lot of bags. So many bags. Look at all them bags.
“I usually have to work outside in this,” he goes on, while the footage cuts to a rainy night — “but it allows me to do some pretty cool things too.”
It then shows a series of picturesque foreign landscapes Mr Russell got to visit, from the Alsace Region in France to Chichen Itza in Yucatán, Mexico.
“But most importantly, I get to visit those that I love most.” It then cuts to a series of photos of Russell’s loved ones. “It evens out in the end.”
‘Broken’ hijacker’s final video
Mr Russell, 29, of Summer, Washington, stole a Horizon Air Q400 plane from Seattle International Airport before crashing on a nearby island.
He worked for Horizon Airlines as a ground service agent according to The Sun, and is not believed to have had a pilot’s licence.
But in audio of the emotional conversations between the man and air traffic control, at one point he asked for help adjusting the cabin pressure and said: “I don’t need that much help; I’ve played some video games before.”
He also mentioned being on “minimum wage”, raising financial problems as a possible reason behind his shocking act.
He reportedly ran a bakery with his high school sweetheart wife, Hannah, until it closed in 2015.
Mr Russell’s family released a statement, describing their “devastation” over losing their “faithful husband, loving son and good friend”.
“This is a complete shock to us,” the statement said.
“We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now.”
Local Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said during Mr Russell’s flight, the F-15s fighter planes which gave chase out of Portland, in the nearby state of Oregon, arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft “out of harm’s way and people on ground safe”.
Meanwhile, investigators are now focused on learning how Mr Russell managed the dramatic flight.
Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said: “We don’t know how he learned to do that.
“Commercial aircraft are complex machines. No idea how he achieved that experience.”
We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA. We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) August 11, 2018
Debra Eckrot from the local office of the National Transportation Safety Board said it is possible to start the plane for someone with some basic knowledge.
“They don’t necessarily use a key, so there’s switches that they use to start the aircraft,” she said.
“So if the person has basic understanding — from what I understand he was support personnel, ground personnel — they probably do have at least a basic understanding on how to start the aircraft.”
Mr Russell was studying for a degree in social sciences from Washington State University and had dreams of joining the military, according to The Sun.
But he was also, reportedly, suicidal.
Sheriff Pastor confirmed via Twitter that the man was acting alone when he made the unauthorised flight and was chased by F15 fighter planes. Local officials said the jets “were not involved in the crash”.
Caught on video, the chase started at about 7.30pm local time and ended when the turboprop 76-seater aircraft crashed on Ketron island, around 50km southwest of Seattle.
Video taken by a bystander showed the passenger plane making an unlikely upside-down aerial loop, then flying low over Puget Sound before crashing into the sparsely populated island.
The crash sparked a fire in the dense forest. Flames lit up the night as they spread from the burning wreckage to nearby trees.
WHAT PILOT TOLD CONTROL TOWER
In a conversation with the control tower, the pilot came across as excitable, confused and even apologetic.
“Congratulations, you did it,” the control tower tells him, according to an audio feed aired on CNN.
“Let’s turn around the airplane and land it and not hurt anybody on the ground.”
“I don’t know, man,” the man answers. “I don’t want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know.”
During the conversation, the man says he had put some fuel in the plane “to go check out the Olympics” — the Olympic Mountains which lie about 160km away.
But he later worried he was running low, saying the fuel had burned “quite a bit faster than I expected.”
The control tower then urged him to land at a nearby military base.
“I wouldn’t want to do that. They probably have anti-aircraft,” he responds.
Air Traffic Control Audio from the stolen Q400 flight: “Hey, do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?” pic.twitter.com/17sScC6PFh
— Benjamin Bearup (@TheAviationBeat) August 11, 2018
Audio confirms Mr Russell joked with traffic controllers about “going to jail” during the short flight as F15s chased him.
“This is probably jail time for life, huh?” he later said, according to a recording published by The Seattle Times.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” he said.
“I would like to apologise to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
An airline employee “conducted an unauthorised takeoff” of an aeroplane carrying no passengers, then “crashed in south Puget Sound,” Sea-Tac Airport officials said on Twitter.
“This is not a terrorist incident,” Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter.
“Confirmed info … this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.” Sheriff Troyer confirmed that there were “no passengers on the plane” when it crashed.
Horizon Air CEO Constance Van Muehlen issued a video statement describing the incident.
“We believe it (the plane) was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and no other passengers or crew were on board,” she said. “Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees.”
AIRLINE SPEAKS OUT
Alaska Airlines confirmed the crash shortly after the plane went down.
“We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorised takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA.
“We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.”
After the stolen Air Q400 took off without authorisation from Seattle’s SeaTac airport, the area went into lock down with all flights halted.
However Sea-Tac Airport has now confirmed that normal operations have resumed.
Airways magazine Aviation Beat correspondent Benjamin Bearup tweeted alleged air traffic control audio of the rogue pilot talking with traffic controllers.
In the audio, Mr Russell can be heard saying, “I think I am going to try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good then I am going to go nose down and call it a night.”
Locals tweeted after seeing the plane flying up, then being chased by the jets and ending in the fiery crash.
One person tweeted: “We saw it flying over the magnolia area around 8.10-ish and thought it was really odd since it was flying low and doing weird turns, how crazy!”
Morgan Chesky, a reporter for KOMO News, wrote: “Per JBLM source: After being contacted by F-15’s, stolen plane began to nose dive, crashing in north Pierce County.”
Horizon has approximately 4000 employees and serves more than 45 cities in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Canada.
Originally published as Plane hijacker’s eerie final video