Baggage Handler Steals and Crashes Plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

By M. Russo — Published August 12, 2018

Baggage Handler Steals and Crashes Plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The identity of the Horizon Air employee who stole a plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been revealed as Richard "Beebo" Russell. The 29-year-old from Pierce County, Washington, was employed as a baggage handler at the airport. He hijacked the empty 76-seat Alaska Airlines plane at around 8:00 PM on Friday night. The sheriff's department described Russell as suicidal.

Russell was employed by Horizon for 3.5 years and had security clearance to be near planes, though did not have a pilot's license. His position included handling bags, tidying and de-icing planes, and direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach. The plane was reportedly in a "maintenance position" and not scheduled for flight. He used a pushback tractor to get the plane into position so that he could board and then take off.

Air traffic controllers spent about an hour speaking with Russell, attempting to guide him into a landing. They also brought a pilot on the line to assist Russell, though the rogue baggage handler said, "Nah, I mean, I don't need that much help. I've played some video games before."


Audio recordings reveal Russell speaking about his concerns regarding fuel levels, desires to do various aerobatics stunts and see the Olympic Mountains, and fear about jail time. He also said that he did not want to hurt anyone. "I've got a lot of people that care about me, and it's 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."

On the ground, people believed they were watching an air show performance, with Russell somehow managing to put the plane into a 360-degree roll. Rick Christenson, a retired supervisor at Horizon Air who witnessed the hijacked plane flying from his Tacoma home said, "He was doing a lot of weird flying, weird turns."  Two F-15 jets scrambled after the aircraft to try to redirect it when it crashed on Ketron Island in Puget Sound. While Russell perished in the crash, none of the island's two dozen residents were injured.

Federal agencies are investigating the incident.  Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, said in a statement, "Last night's event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline." Russell's family also released a statement, saying "This is a complete shock to us. We are devastated by these events." They described Russell as "a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend."

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