U.S. investigators are working to find out how an airline employee stole an empty commercial aeroplane from the main airport serving Seattle and crashed into a small island after being chased by military jets.
The man was killed and no one else was hurt.
WATCH & LISTEN Investigators have recovered and are analyzing the flight data recorder and components of the cockpit voice recorder:
Here are more details on the bizarre incident, according to sources from AP:
A Horizon Airlines ground agent stole a Horizon Air Q400, a turboprop plane that seats 76 people, from Sea-Tac International Airport on Friday night.
For more than an hour, Richard Russell, 29, flew over the Seattle metro area and Puget Sound, doing large loops and other dangerous manoeuvres while talking with air traffic controllers. Russell was killed when the plane crashed on Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma.
Who was Richard Russell?
Russell had been employed by Horizon Airlines, which is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West for 3 ½-years a s a ground agent who directs aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and handles baggage. Authorities don’t know whether he was a licensed pilot.
Russell was from Wasilla, Alaska, lived in Sumner, Washington, and was married in 2012. In a humorous YouTube video he posted last year, he talked about his job and included videos and photos of his various travels.
How authorities responded:
Two military F-15C aircraft were scrambled from Portland, Oregon, and pursued the plane. Authorities say they didn’t fire on it before it crashed. Air traffic controllers tried to persuade Russell to attempt to land.
“There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” a controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” Russell responded. Later he said: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this ... Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
What are investigators doing?
The FBI and other agencies are trying to determine what happened, including how Russell knew how to take off in the plane that required buttons and switches to be activated in a particular order.
Authorities say Russell used a machine called a pushback tractor to first manoeuvre the aircraft, which was in a maintenance area.
Officials at Sea-Tac airport planned to meet Monday with airlines to discuss security protocols. The bizarre incident points to what experts say is one of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel: airline or airport employees causing mayhem.