Richard Russell was a suicidal airport ground services worker who stole an airplane from Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle, Washington, and took it on a dramatic unauthorized flight, where it was chased by fighter planes as he attempted “stunts” in the air before the plane crashed.
In July 2022, video was released that showed Russell’s last moments going through security, taking off in the plane, and communicating with air traffic control.
The man, known as “Rich” in air traffic control audio and dubbed the “sky king” on Twitter, broke hearts on social media as people followed the unauthorized flight before it came to a fatal end. The incident led to a dramatic and tragic night on August 10, 2018, as aircraft were grounded at Sea-Tac while fighter jets followed the man and air traffic controllers tried unsuccessfully to help him land the aircraft.
On social media, Richard Russell used the name “Beebo Russell.” (If you need help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)
Here’s what you need to know:
Newly Released Video Shows Russell Taking Off in the Alaska Airlines Plane
The video shows Russell wearing a shirt that reads “The sky’s no limit,” as he passed through security at the airport, where he worked. The Port of Seattle released the video.
Then he took an Alaska Airlines plane. The plane started moving, but Russell jumped in the plane and took off.
Other video shows him clocking in to work. After five hours, he arrived in a tow vehicle near the plane.
“…About to take off. It’s gonna be crazy,” he said at one point in air traffic control transmissions.
Videos showed the airplane taking off.
“Hey, I found myself in a predicament. I’m in the air right now. Just kind of soaring around,” he told air traffic control.
Richard Russell, Who Spent Time in Alaska, Was Religious & Told Air Traffic Controllers He Was ‘Broken’
On Facebook, Rich, using the name Beebo Russell, wrote that he lived in Sumner, Washington, was from Wasilla, Alaska, and was married to Hannah Russell, who worked as an assistant pastry chef and waitress, according to her social media account.
Richard Russell had a website that appeared to have been for a college communications class.
“Hey all! My names Richard Russell, I’m 27 and currently living in Sumner, WA with my incredible wife Hannah. I was born in Key West, Florida, and moved to Wasilla, Alaska when I was 7. I met Hannah in Coos Bay, Oregon in 2010 while we were both going to school,” the about me section says.
A 2012 article in the World described how Russell met his wife. “Hannah and Beebo met at a Campus Crusade for Christ gathering at Southwestern Oregon Community College last year,” the site reported.
“Our first date, he kind of cornered me into it,” Hannah Russell said to the site. “I was dead set against it.” Their business contained a sign that read, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt.” In the article, Russell described himself as laid back and easy going.
A former coworker, Rick Christenson, told The Seattle Times: “He was a quiet guy. 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.” He said that airline employees go through background checks.
Audio Captured Emotional Conversations Between Russell & Air Traffic Controllers
Audio captured emotional conversations between the man, named as “Rich,” and air traffic controllers trying to help him land safely. Authorities said they don’t think he had a pilot’s license and aren’t sure how he was able to take off, much less perform complicated tricks in the air like a “barrel roll.” At one point, Russell told a controller he had played a lot of video games.
“Damnit Andrew, people’s lives are at stake here,” Rich said at one point in the audio, which you can listen to later in this article.
“Ah, Rich, don’t say stuff like that,” the controller said.
“I don’t want to hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nothings into my ear,” said Rich, who claimed he could fly the plane because he played video games.
Sea-Tac airport confirmed the plane was down a short time later. “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 audio between the man known as “Rich” and air traffic controllers further captured his demeanor. “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,” Richard Russell 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 the 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.
At another point, Richard Russell 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.”
He also said, “I’m gonna land it, in a safe kind of manner. I think I’m gonna try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes good, I’m just gonna nose down and call it a night.”
Audio from the SeaTac tower reported that aircraft were lined up on the tarmac at one point. You can listen to more archived aviation audio on the incident here, some of which captures the man’s voice:
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