Man who stole plane ID'd, once described job as getting “to visit those I love most”
The family of a man who authorities say stole an airplane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and later crashed it called him a faithful husband, loving son and good friend. In a statement, the family says Richard Russell, whose nickname was “Beebo,” was warm, kind and gentle. They say says this is a complete shock.
Russell, 29 is presumed dead. His family says it’s clear he didn’t mean to harm anyone.
Late Friday, a Horizon Air employee believed to be Russell stole an empty turboprop plane, took off from SeaTac and crashed on Ketron Island, a small island in the Puget Sound that is home to about two dozen residents. He was in the air for about an hour.
Video from Friday showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on the Puget Sound. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats. There were no passengers aboard.
The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy.” An air traffic controller called him “Rich,” and tried to convince him to land the airplane.
“There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” the controller says, reffering to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” the man responded, later adding, “This is probably jail time for life, huh?”
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” the man later said. “It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this…Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
“He worked his shift yesterday, we believe he was in uniform, his job is to be around airplanes,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group, which owns Horizon Air.
Russell was “tow certified” and had full security access, and had been with the company for three and a half years, CBS News’ Jamie Yuccas reports.
“He was a quiet guy,” Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with the airline who retired in May told The Seattle Times. “It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers. I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this.”
According to his Facebook page, which had limited public access, he was from Wasilla, Alaska, and lived in Sumner, Washington, and was married in 2012.
In a humorous YouTube video he posted last year, he talked about his job and included videos and photos of his various travels.
“I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags,” he said.
A blog that appeared to belong to Russell as part of a multimedia content creation class at Washington State University focused on his job on a ground service agent. He said he wanted to create projects showing the contrast between his hard work on the ground and his high-flying free time traveling the globe.
“I never thought I would work as a Ground Service Agent (GSA) for an Airlines company,” he wrote in a blog post in September 2017. “I always felt bad for the guys and gals who handled luggage. Every time I traveled I would look out my plane window and see these sullen looking individuals leisurely pacing around, or hectically throwing bags into a cart. It seemed like such miserable work and I never could imagine why anyone would want to subject themselves to all the constant noise, gas fumes, and heavy lifting.”
Russell posted collages of photos from his trips around the world, writing that travel was “what keeps me going in the most unfavorable circumstances.”
One sketch that he posted included a drawing of a Q400 plane, the same kind of plane involved in Friday’s crash.
In a final video project set to cheery music, Russell included selfies from airport grounds and photos from his many trips. “Most importantly,” he said in a voiceover about his job, “I get to visit those I love most. It evens out in the end.”
Jason Silverstein contributed to this report.
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