Authorities probe how 'suicidal' employee could steal plane

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"He had access legitimately" to the plane said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport in the U.S. state of Washington, adding that "no security violations were committed".

Russell took off with the stolen aircraft at about 8 p.m. Friday from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and was an employee of Horizon Air, the Alaska Air Group said in a statement.

A Horizon Air airplane was stolen from SeaTac Airport on August 10, 2018 and crashed on Ketron Island where it sparked a fire.

Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, says on Twitter Friday night that a 29-year-old airline mechanic stole the Horizon Air Q400 from Sea-Tac International Airport.

Sheriff Paul Pastor said during a news conference in Steilacoom.that the pilot was "probably deceased".

"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", he said. Two military F-15 chased plane but was not involved in the crash, the sheriff's department tweeted.

"Male is confirmed a suicidal male".

"The setup in aviation in America is we secure the airfield and then we have the mindset that we have employees that are credentialed and authorized to be there", Tilden said, adding that the airline was working with authorities to investigate. That's why the F-15s got scrambled to deal with this issue, and it seems highly likely that they would have fired on the plane if it made any aggressive moves towards airports or cities. After a ride full of risky loop-the-loops moves and freakish conversation with the air traffic controllers, Richard wasn't able to land safely and crashed into a heavily wooded area on Ketron Island causing the jet became engulfed in flames.

On a live air-traffic control feed, the person flying the plane could be heard speaking with an air-traffic controller who addressed him as Rich and Richard.

The Bombardier Q400 turboprop airplane is designed for shorter-distance flights and can seat 76 passengers, Alaska Air said on its website.

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"We're working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened", he said.

"Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard, along with all of our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees", the airline said in a video statement posted to Twitter early Saturday. "It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this.Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess".

At one point, he said: "Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?"

In recordings of Russell's remarkable conversation with air traffic controllers he speaks admiringly of the Olympic Mountains at sunset, complains of lightheadedness and muses about potential prison time if he were to land the plane safely.

Later, he said he's "got a lot of people that care about me". "Never really knew it until now".

Investigators said they don't believe Russell had a pilot's license and they're unsure how he was able to fly the way he did.

Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland "minutes later" to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff's Office. He didn't hear the crash, but saw smoke.

Naturally, the errant plane disrupted air traffic control - but it also scared observers who had no idea what the aircraft was doing.

"It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie", he told the newspaper.