A suicidal man took an airplane from Sea-Tac airport for a bizarre flight in which he was chased by fighter planes and then crashed the aircraft.
Live and archived dispatch audio from the Air Traffic Control tower, which you can listen to later in this article, captured conversations with the man, and Alaska Airlines has confirmed that an “unauthorized take-off” occurred.
The man who took the plane was later identified as Richard Russell. You can read about his life here.
Audio between the man – whose name was given as “Rich” and air traffic controllers – shows they tried to help him. “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. I’m going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it, until now,” the unidentified man said at one point.
At one point, Rich asked for help in getting the cabin depressurized, complaining he was getting lightheaded.
“I don’t need that much help; I’ve played some video games before,” he told Air Traffic controllers trying to help him. “Ah, minimum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a little bit with the higher-ups,” he said at another point.
The Pierce County Sheriff wrote on Twitter, “Stolen horizon airplane crashed into Ketron island. Preliminary info is that a mechanic from unknown airlines stole plane. Was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island.” The Sheriff’s Department added, “Two military F 15 chased plane but was not involved in crash” and confirmed, “No passengers on plane.”
The man has not been named, but authorities said he was suicidal. “Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence. We are working back ground on him now,” the Pierce County Sheriff wrote.
Here’s what you need to Know:
Passengers Reported That Pilots Said Someone Stole a Plane & Audio Captured the Man’s Voice
Audio from the SeaTac tower reported that aircraft were lined up on the tarmac and periodically captured controllers’ attempts to communicate with the man as F 15s were scrambled out of Portland.
At one point, Rich said, “I’m down to 2100; I started at like 30-something.”
“Rich, you said you had 2100 pounds of fuel left?” the controller responded.
“Yeah – I don’t know what the burnage…is like on a takeoff but yeah. It’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected.”
You can listen to some archived aviation audio on the incident here:
“Damnit Andrew, people’s lives are at stake here,” Rich says at another point.
“Ah, Rich, don’t say stuff like that.”
“I don’t want to hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nothings into my ear.”
This man archived some of the conversations the man on the plane had with ATC:
Many passengers took to social media to report that pilots were telling them a man had stolen a plane.
“We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more,” Alaska Airlines wrote on Twitter around 9:20 p.m. on the west coast.
Aviation audio from the tower said authorities were urging a man who was being called “Rich” or “Rick” to try “to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody.” Other audio reported a ground stop was underway at Sea-Tac, the airport that services Seattle and Tacoma.
You can listen to the live aviation audio from the Sea-Tac Air Traffic Control tower here.
CBS News reporter Kris Van Cleave wrote, “FAA sources say it appears an airline employee stole a Horizon Air Turbo Prop from SeaTac and took off and crashed Ketron Island outside Seattle.” He shared a tweet from a woman named Victoria, who wrote, “Sitting on a plane at SeaTac Airport, a Horizon employee just hijacked an airplane. He is flying around the airport, he does not know how to land it. Happening right now. SeaTac airport.”
At one point, “Rich” told the tower he was losing an engine. Periodically, his voice cut into the dispatches, sometimes sounding a bit frantic. At one point, “Rich” (or “Rick”), said on the aviation audio, “This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me.” People on Twitter who were following the aviation audio reported that the man attempted a “barrel roll” with the plane at one point – or at least claimed he was going to do so. Others reported that the man had supposedly “buzzed” Mt. Rainier.
“Halfway down the runway on Alaska airlines out of Seattle and the pilot slams on the brakes and shares we must go back to the gate. Quite a scary experience. Not entirely sure what’s happening. Someone sneak on board?” A man named Ben Schaechter wrote on Twitter.
The man called “Rich” said to dispatchers at one point, “You think if I can land this successfully, Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?” and the Air Traffic Control tower said, “I think they will give you a job doing anything if you pull this off.” He replied, “yeahhh right. Nah, I’m a white guy.” The last line has caused some controversy on social media.
At one point, the man reported that he threw up all over the cockpit, according to the audio.
“Keep the aircraft nice and low,” the tower responded to the man at one point, advising him to keep it over the water. “We had a ground stop for quite a while here,” a dispatcher says. However, late in the evening of August 10, 2018, tower audio indicated that some planes were being released.
A man named Tyler Lucas wrote, “Sitting on the runway at SeaTac, preparing for departure. Before takeoff, the pilot explains someone stole an airplane, and is flying around near Mt. Rainier.” Lucas added, “They’ve been in contact with the culprit. He doesn’t sound confident in his ability to land back at SeaTac. They are grounding all planes and waiting. Unclear if passengers are on board. #seatac.”
A woman named Robanne Stading wrote on Twitter, “#seatac airport is on a ground halt because evidently a mechanic is flying an unauthorized flightseeing trip around the mtns. They wont let anyone leave the airport while he’s up there. Pilot said it was most bizarre thing he’d heard in his career. #iflyalaska #akedchat.”
Jon Ostrower, editor-in-chief of the Air Current, wrote on Twitter, “I’m not prepared to report what I’m picking up on the rumor mill right now. But stay tuned. This night is going to be a very weird one.”
He also wrote, “Something very weird is going on over @SeaTacAirport right now. The skies are eerily silent.”
The site Airline Geeks.com reported, “Reports saying that two F-15s have intercepted an Alaska Air Q400, operated by Horizon Air.” Again, this information was not confirmed by authorities.
The Twitter page Royal S. King wrote, “On a lake in Tacoma and 2 F-15 have intercepted at @AlaskaAir Q400 south of @SeaTacAirport.” Another man wrote, “@flytruenorth Are you following this story? Apparently someone stole a Horizon Q and is flying it over SeaTac. 😳”
One woman wrote on Twitter, “Update: It’s a customer service agent and he has stolen a big Horizon turbo prop. He is not a pilot and does not know how to land the plane. He has buzzed Mt Rainer and the Seattle area. Plane is a Q4. Stay tuned.”
Another indicated, “Seatac airspace closed. Horizon Q4 prop hijacked by unauthorized person not a pilot. Tower tracking flight and in contact. Hijacker does not know how to land the plane. Latest update from tower indicates no interest on his part to land the plane. Stay tuned.”
This article will be updated as more information is learned about the incident.