A jittery 29-year-old Washington man whom controllers called “Rich” was in the cockpit of a Bombardier Q400 commercial plane he had reportedly taken for a ride before it went down in an explosive crash near Seattle on Friday night.
Rich’s sometimes goofy, nervous, heartbreaking exchanges with the air traffic control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport could be heard live on a tower broadcast available on the internet.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor called it a “joyride gone horribly wrong” at a Friday press conference, but also said the man at the controls was “suicidal.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday morning that President Donald Trump is “monitoring the situation,” according to The Associated Press. The president is currently at his New Jersey golf club.
The tragedy played out live on Friday night. Early on, a controller asked Rich, “Just flying the plane around, you seem comfortable with that?”
“Hell yeah, it’s a blast,” said a seemingly high-spirited Rich. “I’ve played video games before so I know what I’m doing a little bit. Everything’s peachy keen. Just did a little circle around [Mount] Rainier. It’s beautiful. I think I got some gas to check out the Olympics,” he added, referring to Washington’s Olympic Mountains.
This is “probably jail time for life, huh?” he asked at one point. “I would hope it is for a guy like me.”
He also wondered, “Hey, you think if I land this successfully, Alaska [Airlines] will give me a job as a pilot?”
When someone at the tower responded, “You know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off,” he answered, “Yeah, riiiight.”
The controllers trying to talk him down were eerily calm. “You are very calm, collect, boys,” Rich told them.
He apparently vomited in the cockpit while talking to controllers. “I threw up all inside of it,” he said. “It’s bad.”
Rich was identified early on by a controller talking to someone else as a “grounds crewman. Right now he’s just flying around, and he just needs some help controlling his aircraft.”
Rich said, “I don’t need that much help. I played some video games before. I would like to figure out how to get this cabin altitude ... make it pressurized or something so I’m not so light-headed.”
A controller eventually suggested he land at McChord Field, an Air Force Base in Washington, or into the water of Puget Sound.
Rich responded, “Dang ... did you talk to McChord yet? ’Cause I don’t think I’d be happy with you telling me I could land like that, ’cause I could mess some stuff up.”
The controller reassured him: “Rich, I already talked to them. Just like me, what we want to see is you not get hurt or anyone else get hurt.”
Then Rich changed the subject suddenly: “Hey, I want the coordinates of that mama orca with the baby. I wanna go see that guy.”
A short time later, an individual identified as “Captain Bill,” who was following the stolen plane in a second aircraft, told Rich, “Let’s try to land this plane safely and not hurt anyone on the ground.”
“Dammit. I don’t know, man,” said Rich. “I don’t know. I don’t want to .. I was kind of hoping that would be it, you know?”
At another point, Rich said, “I wouldn’t mind just shooting the shit with you guys, but it’s all business.”
He talked about doing a “barrel roll,” then “nose down and call it a day.”
When asked how much fuel he had, he responded, “Oh man, not enough.”
Near the end, Rich said, “I got a lot of people that care about me and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it til now.”
Then: “Man, have you been to the Olympics? These guys are gorgeous. Holy smokes ... Hey, pilot guy, can this thing do a back flip you think?”
The sights “went by so fast,” he said shortly before the crash. “I was thinking, like, I’m going to have this moment of serenity.”
f you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.