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FBI seeks motive after airline worker steals, crashes plane

By ALEX HORTON
The Washington Post

August 12. 2018 9:01PM




The hardest part of stealing a commercial plane from an international airport was already over for Richard Russell.

Russell, a ground services worker for Horizon Air, was permitted to get very close to passenger aircraft. And part of his job was to drive the tractor that backed the aircraft into position for takeoff.

He spun a plane around Friday evening without raising suspicion and climbed aboard with 76 empty seats behind him. He would have flipped overhead switches and set the propellers of the Bombardier Q400 spinning before he roared away from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

It’s not clear whether Russell, 29, had ever really flown a plane before.

Russell flew wild loops over Puget Sound, screamed low over frightened onlookers and had existential — and, at turns, bizarre — chats with air traffic controllers as two Air Force F-15 jets gave chase.

Then, about an hour after he took off, Russell plunged into sparsely populated Ketron Island 25 miles southwest of the airport, sparking an intense fire.

He is presumed dead in the crash. The FBI is investigating the stunning heist, which has raised concerns about the security of commercial aircraft and mental health issues among airline workers.


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