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Horizon Air employee acted alone in plane theft, crashed intentionally, says FBI

Richard "Beebo" Russell (Photo via WordPress.com)

SEATTLE - The man who stole a Horizon Air plane at Sea-Tac Airport in August and performed aerial stunts before crashing on a Puget Sound island acted alone and intentionally flew the aircraft into the ground in a final suicidal act, says the final FBI report on the incident released Friday.

But investigators could uncover no motive for the actions of Richard Russell, 28, of Sumner, and it will likely always remain a mystery, the report says.

"(The investigation) did not identify any information that would suggest the theft of the aircraft was related to wider criminal activity or terrorist ideology," says a summary of the FBI report. "Although investigators received information regarding Russell’s background, possible stressors, and personal life, no element provided a clear motivation for Russell’s actions."

The report says that Russell stole the Horizon Air Q400 aircraft nearly six hours into his shift as a ground crewmember for the airline on Aug. 10.

At 7:15 p.m. he arrived in a tow vehicle at the north end of the Sea-Tac airfield. Four minutes later he had boarded the aircraft, and at 7:33 p.m. he took off down the runway and was airborne.

Over the next hour he bantered with air traffic controllers and performed aerial stunts over Puget Sound as thousands of people watched transfixed.


Then at around 8:44 p.m. he aimed the aircraft toward the ground in a final descent and intentionally crashed on Ketron Island at 8:46 p.m.

"If the pilot had wanted to avoid impact with the ground he had time and energy to pull the column back, raise the nose, and initiate a climb," says the FBI report. "Instead, the column remained in a position forward of neutral and moved further forward about six seconds prior to the end."

The report adds: "The Medical Examiner’s Office noted that 'there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the death was intentional.'"

The FBI's extensive invesigation into the incident did not find anyone else involved in the planning or execution of the unauthorized flight, the FBI says.

The report also found that Russell knew how to operate the aircraft's auxiliary power unit as part of his responsibilities as a ground crew member. Although he never received any formal flight training, he was familiar with the checklist of actions for starting a plane and he had conducted internet searches for flight instructional videos.

"The FBI investigation found that Russell was a properly credentialed employee of Horizon Air, had access to the exterior and interior of aircraft in the regular course of his duties, and did not appear to have violated any security measures or protocols until the theft of the plane," the report said.

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