It’s relatively easy to steal a car, or a bus, as opposed to a commercial plane. Commercial planes need to undergo numerous protocols before being authorized to fly. The process also involves the approval of a number of departments working in harmony within the airport. However, in a tragic yet bizarre event, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington, U.S., witnessed a plane being stolen by an employee. The employee flew the plane for over an hour, before crashing it – resulting in his death.
The perpetrator was identified as Richard B. Russell, 29, and a resident of Summer, Washington. He worked on the airport as a Horizon Air ground service agent; his job involved directing aircraft’s for takeoff and gate approach, handling baggage and tidying and de-icing planes. On 10th August, 2018, at around 7:30 pm, he used a pushback tractor to move an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane onto the runway – and took off without authorization. Officials believe he didn’t have an aviation license, and also didn’t know how to operate a plane.
The takeoff sparked a quick reaction from authorities, as two armed F-15 military jets followed him soon. At that point, it looked like a potential terrorist attack. Russell flew the plane for about an hour, indulging in funny, bizarre, existential chatter with air traffic controllers. He also managed to perform some aerobic maneuvers. Ground witnesses report him pulling up for a loop, putting the aircraft upside-down and pulling back up just feet above a body of water. Eventually, he crashed the 76-seater plane on the sparsely populated Ketron Island, starting a fire and killing himself in the process. The authorities have reiterated that the F-15’s didn’t shoot him down, and the act was deliberate by the victim.
The incident has sparked several controversies. First and foremost, the lackluster security measure of the airport that allowed him to steal the flight has been questioned. Post 9/11, every American airport has undergone massive changes in protocol that has prevents such an act. Russel had broken several protocols during his heist. Former safety inspector, David Soucie, says, “The fact he was out there by himself, towing the aircraft by himself … then moving the tracker out of the way, so he could get on the aircraft and move. The fact that all of that happened without even being noticed by anyone on the ground service crew, that is just phenomenal to me”.
The incident has deeply saddened the family of Russell, who described him as funny, hardworking and a family man. The reason for his doing is still unknown, but the nature of his conversation may have demonstrated ongoing depression and suicidal tendencies. According to reports, the black box has been recovered, albeit burnt, and have been sent to Washington D.C for analysis. The tragic way of taking one’s life might open several doors to ongoing depression suffered by blue-collar workers in the airport industry.