Man Who Stole, Crashed Seattle Plane ID'd As Horizon Air Worker Richard Russell

The ground service worker took an Alaska Airlines plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The airline employee who commandeered a plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and ultimately crashed it on a nearby island in Puget Sound has been identified as 29-year-old Richard Russell.

Law enforcement sources confirmed to both The Seattle Times and The New York Times that Russell, who handled baggage and towed aircraft for Horizon Air, was the pilot.

Horizon operational supervisor Rick Christenson told The Seattle Times that Russell was a “quiet guy” who seemed well-liked by his co-workers.

Richard Russell in a photo from his personal blog.
Richard Russell in a photo from his personal blog.

Russell took off in a Bombardier Q400 commercial plane around 8 p.m. on Friday and proceeded to fly in loops over the water.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor called the flight a “joyride gone horribly wrong,” while also referring to Russell as “suicidal.” The incident led to around 75 delayed flights, nine diverted flights and five canceled flights.

Russell’s heartbreaking exchange with air traffic controllers ― who called him “Rich” ― was broadcast live and could be heard online. Russell said he was having a “blast” and had learned to fly from video games. But he also apologized to the people who cared about him, calling himself “a broken guy” with “a few screws loose.”

At one point, he asked for the coordinates of the mother orca who has been carrying the body of her dead baby for more than two weeks in grief.

Shortly before crashing into Ketron Island, Russell said he was hoping to “have this moment of serenity.” Authorities presume he died in the crash.

If 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.