A video by John Waldron shows the stolen Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane passing overhead on Aug. 10. (John Waldron via KING5 / Twitter)
After a three-month investigation, the FBI has concluded that Horizon Air employee Richard Russell acted alone when he crept into a secure area of Sea-Tac International Airport, stole an airplane and took it on an joyride.
Investigators also said today that Russell, 29, crashed the empty Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane intentionally into a wooded area of remote Ketron Island, southwest of Seattle in Puget Sound. Cause of death was ruled as suicide.
The incident seized public attention — and sparked an aerial pursuit by F-15 fighter jets — for hours on Aug. 10, when observers feared that a terrorist attack might have been under way. But in conversations with air traffic controllers, Russell sounded relatively relaxed and occasionally reflective about his stunt.
“Hey, do you think if I land this successfully, Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?” he asked at one point.
Russell didn’t give any explanation for his actions, other than to say he was “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until know.”
After his death in the crash, authorities questioned how a ground service agent — whose job was to lug baggage, tidy up planes and tow them to and from runways — could have the access and the acumen to take the plane and fly it. The FBI said Russell apparently absorbed enough information from his job duties and from instructional videos online to turn on the plane and fly it.
The investigators’ timeline suggest that there were only 14 minutes between the time Russell entered the plane and the time of takeoff.
The incident led to a tightening up of security measures at Sea-Tac, including an increased security presence in maintenance areas and closer monitoring.
The FBI said it saw no evidence of a wider criminal activity and wouldn’t be pursuing any federal charges.
Here’s today’s full FBI statement:
“The FBI has completed its investigation of the unauthorized flight of a Horizon Air Q400 aircraft that occurred on Friday, August 10, 2018, from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington. Evidence collected during the course of the investigation indicates Richard Russell, 28, of Sumner, Washington, piloted the aircraft and that the final descent to the ground was intentional. Extensive investigative activity failed to reveal any additional subject(s) …read more