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 Man steals plane and crashes after chase with fighter planes in Seattle

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Man steals plane and crashes after chase with fighter planes in Seattle Empty
PostSubject: Man steals plane and crashes after chase with fighter planes in Seattle   Man steals plane and crashes after chase with fighter planes in Seattle EmptySun 12 Aug 2018, 1:36 pm

THE man who stole a Horizon Air Q400 plane from Seattle’s international airport for a short, dramatic flight before crashing on a nearby island has been identified.

According to The Sun, Richard Russell worked for Horizon Airlines as a ground service agent but is not believed to have had a pilot’s licence.

“We don’t know how he learned to do that,” Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said.

“Commercial aircraft are complex machines. No idea how he achieved that experience.”

Debra Eckrot from the local office of the National Transportation Safety Board said Russell was “support personnel” and that she could not understand how he was able to start the aeroplane.

“They don’t necessarily use a key, so there’s switches that they use to start the aircraft,” she said.

“So if the person has basic understanding — from what I understand he was support personnel, ground personnel — they probably do have at least a basic understanding on how to start the aircraft.”

Russell was married, studying for a degree in social sciences from Washington State University and had dreams of joining the military, according to The Sun.

But he was also, reportedly, suicidal.

The local Pierce County Sheriff, Paul Pastor, confirmed via Twitter that the man was acting alone when he made the unauthorised flight and was chased by F15 fighter planes. Local officials said the jets “were not involved in the crash”.

Caught on video, the chase started about 7.30pm local time and ended when the turboprop 76-seater aircraft crashed on Ketron island, around 50km southwest of Seattle.

Video taken by a bystander showed the passenger plane making an unlikely upside-down aerial loop, then flying low over Puget Sound before crashing into the sparsely populated island.

The crash sparked a fire in the dense forest. Flames lit up the night as they spread from the burning wreckage to nearby trees.


In a conversation with the control tower, the pilot came across as excitable, confused and even apologetic.

“Congratulations, you did it,” the control tower tells him, according to an audio feed aired on CNN.

“Let’s turn around the air and land it and not hurt anybody on the ground.”

“I don’t know, man,” the pilot answers. “I don’t want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know.”

During the conversation, the man says he had put some fuel in the plane “to go check out the Olympics” — the Olympic Mountains that lie about 160km away.

But he later worried he was running low, saying the fuel had burned “quite a bit faster than I expected.” The control tower then urged him to land at a nearby military base. “I wouldn’t want to do that. They probably have anti-aircraft,” he responds. “This is probably jail time for life, huh?” he later says, according to a recording published by The Seattle Times.

“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” he said.

“I would like to apologise to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”

An airline employee “conducted an unauthorised takeoff” of an aeroplane carrying no passengers, then “crashed in south Puget Sound,” Sea-Tac Airport officials said on Twitter.

“This is not a terrorist incident,” Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter.

“Confirmed info … this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.” Troyer confirmed that there were “no passengers on the plane” when it crashed.

The sheriff’s office also said the F-15s, which were scrambled out of Portland, in the nearby state of Oregon, arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft “out of harm’s way and people on ground safe.”

Horizon Air CEO Constance Van Muehlen issued a video statement describing the incident.

“We believe it (the plane) was taken by a single Horizon Air employee and no other passengers or crew were on board,” she said. “Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees.”


John Waldron, who took dramatic video of the stolen plane flying in a loop, told CNN that he was out for an evening stroll when he saw the two jet fighters following the turboprop aeroplane.

His first thought was that they were practising for an air show. “So, I started to capture video, just because I thought it was, kind of bizarre,” he told CNN.

Waldron said it seemed that the jets were chasing down the aeroplane.

“I thought this is really odd. Kept the video rolling.” Then the passenger plane pilot “did a complete loop … I couldn’t believe he recovered.”

He estimated the plane at its lowest point “was no less than 100 feet (30.5m) above the water.”

Then the pilot “pulled — pretty much straight up. And kind of at an angle. And almost stalled the aircraft. Somehow he got it levelled back off. And then made his way down toward the island.”

Waldron said that he was prepared to “run and take cover”. He briefly turned away, then turned back and saw the explosion as the plane crashed.

“Saw a bright, pinpoint area of flame. And the smoke. I thought, oh, my god. I think he just crashed.”

Audio confirms Russell joked with traffic controllers about “going to jail” during the short flight as F15s chased him.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter the F15 fighter planes “made it within a few minutes of theft of plane. Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe.”

Alaska Airlines confirmed the crash shortly after the plane went down.

“We’ve confirmed a Horizon Air Q400 that had an unauthorised takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA.

“We’re working to confirm who was on board, we believe there were no guests or crew on board other than the person operating the plane.”

After the stolen Air Q400 took off without authorisation from Seattle’s SeaTac airport, the area went into lock down with all flights halted.

However Sea-Tac Airport has now confirmed that normal operations have resumed.

Airways magazine Aviation Beat correspondent Benjamin Bearup tweeted alleged air traffic control audio of the rogue pilot talking with traffic controllers.

In the audio, Russell can be heard saying, “I think I am going to try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good then I am going to go nose down and call it a night.”

Locals tweeted after seeing the plane flying up, then being chased by the jets and ending in the fiery crash.

One person tweeted: “We saw it flying over the magnolia area around 8:10 ish and thought it was really odd since it was flying low and doing weird turns, how crazy!!”
US television images of the stolen Air Q400 from Sea Tac alight after crashing. Picture: @KING5Seattle.

US television images of the stolen Air Q400 from Sea Tac alight after crashing. Picture: @KING5Seattle.Source:Supplied

One man wrote on Twitter, “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.”

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.”

Horizon has approximately 4000 employees and serves more than 45 cities in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Canada.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Beyond Blue’s website.

— with AP and AFP
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