Saturday 15 December 2018

Man who stole plane and crashed near Seattle had aircraft clearance

The hijacker has been named as Richard Russell.

The site on Ketron Island where the plane crashed (Ted S. Warren/AP)
The site on Ketron Island where the plane crashed (Ted S. Warren/AP)

By Rachel La Corte and Keith Ridler, Associated Press

The man who stole an empty Horizon Air plane from Sea-Tac International Airport before it crashed near Seattle was Richard Russell, a US official said on Saturday.

Authorities said a 29-year-old man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first manoeuvre the aircraft so he could board and then take off Friday evening.

He is presumed to have been killed about an hour later when the aircraft crashed into a small island southwest of Seattle.

 

The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he was “just a broken guy”.

An air traffic controller called the man Rich, and tried to convince him to land the plane.

Russell went by “Beebo” on social media, and on his Facebook page, which had limited public access.

He said he was from Wasilla, Alaska, and lived in Sumner, Washington, and was married in 2012.

In a humorous YouTube video he posted last year, he talked about his job and included videos and photos of his various travels.

“I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags,” he said.

The official who named him spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Officials had earlier said the man had been an employee of Horizon Air for three and a half years and had clearance to be among aircraft.

He did not have a pilot’s licence, and they said it was unclear how he attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft before crashing into a small island in the Puget Sound.

They said he man went through various background checks to get clearance to be in the secured area.

Federal investigators said the plane  broke into many pieces when it crashed but they still anticipated they would be able to recover data recorders from the aircraft.

Debra Eckrote, a regional chief with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the wings were off the plane and the fuselage was upside down.

The plane was pursued by military aircraft before it crashed on tiny Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington.

Video showed fiery flames amid trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry.

No structures on the ground were damaged, Alaska Airlines said.

Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said F-15 aircraft took off out of Portland, Oregon, were in the air “within a few minutes”, and the pilots kept “people on the ground safe”.

“The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The Associated Press.

“Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.”

He said the man could have caused mass destruction.

“If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.”

 

Press Association

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