F-15s scramble as 'suicidal' mechanic steals, crashes empty plane in Seattle

12 August, 2018, 12:57 | Author: Regina Silva
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Richard Russell, 29, flew the plane for over an hour before it crashed on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound.

Local media citing sources at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) air force base said one or more F-15 fighter planes contacted the rogue aircraft and it crashed soon afterwards.

"This is probably jail time for life, huh?" he later asks, according to a recording provided by the Seattle Times.

"Rich" said: "I've got a lot of people that care about me. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them". Although he never claimed he was trying to kill himself while conversing with air traffic controllers, some of his comments about never intending to land the plane and having a few "screws loose" indicate he may have had suicidal intentions and/or was mentally ill.

Video footage on social media showed a large plane flying above the Seattle area with a F-15 fighter jet following it.

The sheriff's department said "preliminary" information was that the plane's pilot was "a mechanic from unknown airlines" who "was doing stunts in air" or lacked flying skills.

Mike Mathews, a friend of Russell, said at a press conference the incident came as a "complete shock".

Mr Russell was an airline ground agent working his regular shift when he stole the empty Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport.

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

Law enforcement sources confirmed to both The Seattle Times and The New York Times that Russell, who handled baggage and towed aircraft for Horizon Air, was the pilot.

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Alaska Airlines said no structures on the ground were damaged. Video showed flames amidst trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry.

Normal operations at Sea-Tac resumed around 9:30 Friday night.

The FBI is investigating the freakish incident in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and local law enforcement.

Gary Howell, a Wasilla High track and field coach, said he remembered Russell as a amusing guy who also had a smile and a joke and was a great team player.

The FBI is looking into the 29-year-old's background and try to determine his motive, she said. "I played video games before so, you know, I know what I'm doing a little bit". It was a very small two prop plane commuter aircraft was stolen. "In terms of improvements that we might make as a company and as an industry to make this very safe industry even safer in the future, it's too early to say".

An investigation will also seek to determine how a ground service worker was able to access the plane's cockpit and steal it in the first place.

On Saturday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told media that President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident and is now "monitoring the situation" in Seattle.

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

Smoke and an orange glow seen on Ketron Island in Washington state.

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

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