Man Who Stole Plane From Sea-Tac Airport Identified as Richard Russell

Authorities identified Richard Russell as the man who took control of a plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Friday night before crashing on an island in Puget Sound.

richard russell youtube
(Photo: YouTube)

Multiple sources, including a law enforcement source, confirmed the man's identity to the Seattle Times Saturday.

"He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers," Rich Christenson, a retired colleague of Russell's, told the Times. "I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this."

Russell, 29, worked for Horizon Air's ground crew as a member of the tow team, Christenson said. He handled baggage for the airline.

Russell was a resident of Sumner, Washington. According to BuzzFeed, the FBI and airline officials did not identify Russell, but said he joined Horizon Air in February 2015, which matched information listed on his LinkedIn page. Russell was referred to as "Rich" by air traffic controllers, and some of his friends referred to him as "Beebo."

"I'm just a broken guy," Russell told air traffic controllers while he piloted the plane. "I've got a few screws loose, I guess. I never really knew it until now."

Russell took control of the plane at around 7:35 p.m. local time Friday night and flew in circles for about an hour before the plane went down on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound.

The FAA ordered the airport to a "groundstop" during the incident and NORAD launched two F-15 fighter jets to follow the plane. About 45 minutes after the crash, normal operations resumed.

Officials quickly said the incident was not related to terrorism. They described the man as "suicidal" and said he "acted alone."

"Everybody's stunned … that something like this would happen," Christenson told the Times. "How could it? Everybody's been through background checks."

Brad Tilden, the CEO of Alaska Air Group, Horizon Air's parent company, said in a press conference that the employee who stole the plane worked a shift before the incident and was in uniform at the time.

Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck also said the man who stole the plane did not have a pilot's license and did not know how to fly a commercial airline.

"Commercial aircrafts are complex machines," Beck told reporters Saturday. "They're not as easy to fly as, say, a Cessna 150, so I don't know how he achieved the experience that he did."

According to a blog Russell updated through late last year, he was born in Key West, Florida and moved to Wasilla, Alaska at 7 years old. He met his wife, Hannah, in Coos Bay, Oregon in 2010 and they married the following year. The ran a bakery for three years before they decided to move again to be closer to their families.

While working at the airport, Russell also sought a bachelor's degree in social sciences at Washington State University. Russell also made a YouTube video about his job for a communications class.

"Once I earn my Bachelors in Social Sciences I will either seek a management position where I'm at now, or possibly join the military as an officer," Russell wrote on his blog.

"I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident. Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved," Tilden said in a statement Saturday. "We're working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board."


If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo credit: YouTube