Family of airline worker who crashed stolen plane 'shocked'

The family of a man who authorities say stole a plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and later crashed it called him a faithful husband, loving son and good friend.

In a statement the family said Richard Russell, whose nickname was “Beebo”, was warm, kind and gentle. They said the incident had come as a complete shock.

Russell is presumed dead after the aircraft crashed into a small island southwest of Seattle in the US.

Authorities don’t know why he took the plane, but he could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy”.

His family said it was clear he didn’t mean to harm anyone.

Richard Russell is seen in an undated photograph from a video he produced for his Youtube channel, obtained August 11, 2018. Source: Youtube/Handout via REUTERS

Coaches at Wasilla High School, where Russell was a football player, wrestler and discus thrower, told the Anchorage Daily News they were shocked.

Track and field coach Gary Howell said Russell was the kind of kid you wanted on your team.

Smoke and an orange glow seen on Ketron Island in Washington state. Source: AP Photo via AAP

He remembered him as a funny guy who also had a smile and a joke and was a great team player.

Wasilla wrestling coach Shawn Hayes said Russell was respectful and a good kid.

Airplane theft shows potential dangers from airline workers

Aviation experts believe one of the biggest perils for commercial air travel is airline or airport employees causing mayhem.

“The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” said Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert.

“Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.”

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400, a turboprop plane that seats 76 people, doing large loops and other dangerous stunts as the sun set on Puget Sound in Washington state.

The flight lasted about 75 minutes, and ended when he crashed into the small island after being chased by military jets.

The site on Ketron Island in Washington state where a plane crashed after it was stolen from Sea-Tac International Airport. Source: AP via AAP

The two F-15C aircraft that scrambled from Portland didn’t fire the plane, authorities said.

Mr Southers said the man could have caused mass destruction.

“If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground,” he said.

Officials said Russell had been a Horizon employee for three-and-a-half years and had clearance to be among aircraft, but that to their knowledge, he wasn’t a licenced pilot.

He took the empty plane from a maintenance area.

It’s unclear how Russell attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft, authorities said.

Ground service agents direct aircraft for take-off and gate approach and de-ice planes, as well as handle baggage.

Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon Air, said it wasn’t clear how the man knew to start the engine, which requires a series of switches and levers.

At a news conference, officials from Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air said that they were working with authorities.

“Last night’s event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines.

Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane.