The man who stole a plane and flew it for about an hour on Friday evening over Puget Sound in Washington State before crashing on an island has been identified as Richard B. Russell, according to a law enforcement official.Mr. Russell, a ground service agent at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, took off around 8 p.m.…
The man who stole a plane and flew it for about an hour on Friday evening over Puget Sound in Washington State before crashing on an island has been identified as Richard B. Russell, according to a law enforcement official.
Mr. Russell, a ground service agent at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, took off around 8 p.m. local time in an unauthorized flight, delaying dozens of flights as the airport enforced a temporary ground stop.
He flew around the Seattle-Tacoma area, chatting sometimes calmly and sometimes in a frenzied stream of consciousness with air traffic controllers who tried to guide him to a safe landing. But the plane came down in a fiery crash on Ketron Island in the Puget Sound, about 30 miles from the airport.
Alaska Airlines said in a statement that the person who took the plane was employed by Horizon Air, a subsidiary. The aircraft was a 76-seat turboprop, a Q400, flying for Horizon. No one else was believed to be on board and officials confirmed he was killed in the crash.
Videos taken by onlookers during Mr. Russell’s flight showed the plane doing deep dives, broad loops and at least one upside-down roll.
Debra Eckrote, the chief of the northwest regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said on Saturday that it was conceivable that a ground service agent would have access to aircraft.
“They don’t necessarily use a key, so there’s switches that they use to start the aircraft,” she said. If a person is ground personnel, “they probably do have at least a basic understanding on how to start the aircraft.”
At a news conference on Saturday, airline officials declined to publicly identify the employee.
Addressing the stolen plane’s flying maneuvers, the chief executive of Horizon Air Industries, Gary Beck, said, “To our knowledge he did not have a pilot’s license.”
“Commercial aircrafts are complex machines,” he added. “I don’t know how he achieved the experience he did.”
Alaska Airlines officials said Mr. Russell had worked for Horizon for three and a half years, and was responsible for handling luggage and cargo and for towing aircraft. He had worked his shift on Friday.
a video that appears to have been posted by Mr. Russell in December, he introduced himself as a ground service agent. “That means I lift a lot of bags,” he said. “Like, a lot of bags. So many bags.”
But “it allows me to do some pretty cool things, too,” he added, segueing to footage of a flight tour over Ketchikan, Alaska, followed by images of several countries including France, Ireland and Mexico.
Most importantly, he concluded, “I get to visit those I love most.”
The F.B.I. is leading the investigation into the episode.
“We are going to be thorough, which means taking the time needed to scour the area, delve into the background of the individual believed responsible, and review every aspect of this incident with all appropriate public and private partners,” the agency’s Seattle field office said in a statement.