The Stolen Plane At Sea-Tac Airport
The strange radio conversation,
then the crash
August 11, 2018
Smartphone shot from the ground of the stolen Horizon Air turboprop. Photo: Youtube.
By Rex D. Cain
(SEATTLE, WA.) – It was 9:56 pm Friday night when this word came from the Pierce County sheriff’s office: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info...this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
And two minutes prior to that: “Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence . We are working back ground on him now. “
The plane: an Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprop that the airline said in a statement had been stolen from a maintenance area at Sea-Tac. It was reportedly stolen by a Horizon Air employee, a ground service agent.
After it was in the air, the pilot of the stolen aircraft engaged in a calm but rather surrealistic radio exchange with an air traffic controller on the ground and then it crashed on Ketron Island near Steilacoom, Washington about 90 minutes after it took off.
Pilot is presumed dead.
Update 8/11/18: On Saturday ABC-TV News, quoting a “senior aviation source”, identified the employee of Horizon Air that took the plane as 29-year old Pierce County resident Richard Russell, although Alaska Airlines has yet to confirm his identity.
The New York Times pointed to a video that the newspaper said “appears to have posted by Russell in December in which he introduced himself as a ground service agent.”
“That means I lift a lot of bags,” the man in the video said.
Some folks who viewed the video left some interesting comments about what happened last night. Here’s a few:
……..”Did you know... there are three kind of aces? Those who seek strength, those who live for pride, and those who can read the tide of battle. Those are the three. And him... he was a true ace."
……..”Crashed a stolen plane and didn't hurt anybody else in the process. RIP legend."
……..”"Just gonna put the nose down and call it a night." Godspeed Captain Rich."
……..”You did the barrel roll that we all wish we could.”
……..”The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
……..”This video just took on a whole new meaning."
……..”RIP Rich Roll....the roll was LEGEND" End update
The incident begins
Authorities say the drama began to unfold around 8:00 pm when a man got on board that plane and simply took off without permission. There were no other people on board at the time.
In an audio clip later posted to Youtube of a surrealistic conversation between the cheery sounding pilot and an air traffic controller, the man flying the plane said in a calm voice, “Ah shoot. Man I’m sorry about this. I hope this doesn’t ruin your day.”
Air Traffic Controller: “Just flying the plane around….you seem comfortable with that?”
Pilot: “Oh hell yeah. It’s a blast man. I played video games before so I uh….I know what I’m doin’ a little bit.”
Controller asks him if he has any issues with visibility around him.
Pilot: “Nah, everything’s peachy, peachy clean. Just did a little circle around Mt. Rainier. It’s beautiful! Uh, I think I got some gas to go check out, uh the Olympics (referring to Olympic mountains) and uh...yeah!”
The first time the name Rich is mentioned
The controller calls the pilot by his first name, Rich, appearing to have a sense of what is playing out before him: a man at the controls of an expensive stolen plane who says he’s played video games before as a way of communicating to the controller his qualifications for being able to fly the good sized turbo prop.
Even at this early stage, things are not looking good for a peaceful, non-violent resolution to the incident.
A short time later the pilot tells ground control he’s down to 2100 pounds of fuel left and he doesn't know what the burn rate of that fuel is in that particular plane – meaning he has no idea how much time he has left for that aircraft to be in the air.
He then says, “It’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected.”
Controller tells pilot, “We’re just trying to find a place for you to land safely.”
Pilot: “Yeah, not quite ready to bring it down just yet but holy smokes I gotta...I gotta stop lookin’ at the fuel cause it’s goin’ down quick!”
Jail for life?
Then a short time later the pilot says, again in a cheery voice, “This is probably like jail time for life, huh?” He seems to understand the seriousness, from a legal standpoint, of what he is now engaged in.
There’s a sight pause and then the pilot says, “I would hope it is for a guy like me.” He then tells the controller he’d like to know how to pressurize the cabin so he’s “not so light headed.”
Then the pilot says: “(garbled first few words) People’s lives are at stake here!”
Controller: “Now Rich don’t, don’t say stuff like that.”
Pilot: “Nah, just told ya I don’t wanna hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nuthins into my ear.”
By this stage, it appears to a reporter listening to the conversation that the pilot is toying with the air traffic controller. It appears that he, the pilot, knows exactly what he is doing.
A word for the people who care, going nose down
A few minutes later the pilot says, “I got a lot of people that care about me and uh, it’s going to disappoint them (unintelligible) that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. I’m just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
A short time later the pilot talks about taking the plane into a “barrel roll...and if that goes good I’ll just go nose down and call it a night.”
This the first inkling the pilot gives that he has a deadly mission in mind. That he knows already what the ending to this air drama will be.
A short time later the pilot says he has only about 760 pounds of fuel left and that he’s going to do a “barrel roll (with the plane) real quick.” And then….
Pilot: (laughs) “I feel like one of my engine’s are goin’ out or somethin.”
Then the last words on the tape from the air traffic controller: “Okay Rich, if you could you just wanna keep that plane right over the water. Maybe keep the aircraft nice and low?”
After the stolen plane was in the air, two Air Force F-15 jets had been sent out from the 142nd fighter squadron in Portland to shadow the aircraft. It was as those jets were closing in on the Horizon turboprop that it nose dived and crashed.