The man who stole – and crashed – an airplane from Sea-Tac International Airport after taking it on a dramatic unauthorized flight was suicidal and not a terrorist, according to the Pierce County Sheriff.
Just before 10 p.m. on the west coast, the Pierce County Sheriff confirmed that the plane had crashed. The man who took the plane was later identified as Richard Russell. You can read about his life here.
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 Sheriff’s Department wrote that it was not a terror attack: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info .. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
The Sheriff’s Department also wrote: “Told F 15s made it within a few minutes of theft of plane. Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe. Yay air force . They may not admit for a few days. But is true..”
Here’s what you need to know:
Videos & Photos Showed the Crash Site
Videos and photos circulated on social media showing the plane in the air and also what appeared to be the crash site, where plumes of smoke swirled in the air.
Sea-Tac airport also confirmed the plane was down. “An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed,” the airport wrote.
The aircraft was stolen, according to Air Traffic Control audio, by a man named “Rich” or “Rick.” This man also archived some of the audio:
Another Twitter user wrote, “Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times.”
That Twitter user then posted this video:
ABC News reporter Jeffrey Cook wrote, “A senior federal aviation source tells ABC News that a ground employee got a hold of an empty Horizon Air Dash-8 — ATC was in communication with the pilot and was able to vector the pilot away from the city. NORAD scrambled fighters. Aircraft crashed on Ketron Island.”
Alaska Airlines Says an ‘Unauthorized Take-Off’ Occurred
Alaska Airlines, which owns the plane, confirmed that an “unauthorized take-off” occurred. “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.
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.”
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.”
Dispatch Audio Captured the Man Talking to ATC, Which Tried to Help Him Land the Aircraft Safely
Live aviation audio from the tower said, at one point, that dispatchers were urging a man to try “to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody” while dealing with a snarl of stalled planes on the ground. Other audio reported a ground stop was underway at SeaTac, the airport that services Seattle and Tacoma. Patch confirmed there was a “security incident” underway at SeaTac.
The man’s name was “Rich,” according to tower audio and, at one point, he told the tower he was losing an engine. Periodically, his voice cut into the dispatches. 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.
The man 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.”
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.
Many passengers took to social media to report that pilots were telling them a man had stolen a plane.
A man named Ben Schaechter wrote on Twitter, “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 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.”
Audio from the SeaTac tower reported that aircraft were lined up on the tarmac. You can listen to some archived aviation audio on the incident here:
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.”
This article will be updated as more information is learned about the incident.