Airline Employee Steals, Crashes Plane Near Seattle

August 11, 2018

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US authorities are investigating the Friday night crash of a Horizon Air Q400 aircraft near Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington state after an airline employee took off without clearance and flew the plane for about an hour before it crashed.

Horizon’s parent company Alaska Airlines said the incident happened about 8pm (20:00) local time when a ground service agent took the Bombardier Q400 turboprop from a maintenance position at SeaTac airport and made an unauthorised takeoff.

Two F-15 military fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the stolen airliner and the airport closed for a short time.

Alaska issued a statement at 9.32pm saying “We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorised take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board.”

The airline updated the statement at 10pm saying the aircraft “has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County.” It said it believed that only the person who was operating the plane was on board and no one else was involved.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department confirmed there were no passengers on the plane and tweeted that the suspect “is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence. We are working back ground on him now.”

The person responsible is believed to be Richard Russell, a 29 year old local man who worked for the airline.

The Sheriff’s office confirmed the incident was not a terrorist incident and tweeted that the stolen plane was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island.”

Social media images appeared to show the aircraft doing some complicated stunt flying before it crashed. In an audio recording of a conversation with air traffic control, the person piloting the aircraft said he was a “broken guy.”

Alaska Air group chief executive Brad Tilden later said the airline was “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. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation.”

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said “There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident of a stolen Horizon Air plane from Sea-Tac Airport. The responding fighter pilots flew alongside the aircraft and were ready to do whatever was needed to protect us, but in the end the man flying the stolen plane, who was believed to be the only person on board, crashed on Ketron Island.”

The final report into the crash is expected to take some months.