The man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane in Seattle on Friday night taking it for a joyride before crashing on an island in a ball of flames has been identified as Richard Russell, a married 29-year-old Horizon Air employee.
Russell has worked for Horizon Air at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for nearly four years, according to his LinkedIn account, as a ground service agent and an operations agent.
Authorities have yet to confirm the hijacker's identity, although Russell's Facebook friends and a co-worker announced the news early Saturday morning.
Russell, who authorities called ‘suicidal’, hijacked an empty 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop Q400 around 8pm on Friday after taking the aircraft from the maintenance area.
Richard Russell, 29, has been identified as the man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane at a Seattle airport on Friday night
Russell has worked for Horizon Air at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for nearly four years, according to his LinkedIn account, as a ground service agent and an operations agent
Russell, 29, married his wife Hannah in 2011 after meeting in school the year before
Russell posted several videos on his blog showing him and his wife (pictured) traveling around the globe
It remains unclear how he was able to gain access to the aircraft and fly it out of the airport undetected. Officials said during a press conference on Saturday that Russell used a push back tractor to rotate the plane 180 degrees before take off.
Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck told reporters that he does not believe Russell had a pilot license.
'We don't know how he learned to do that,' Beck said when asked how Russell was able to perform loop-the-loop and barrels while flying the aircraft. 'Commercial aircraft are complex machines. No idea how he achieved that experience.'
Horizon Air COO Constance von Muehlen said in a video statement late Friday night that ‘our hearts are with the family of the individual onboard as well as all our Alaska Air and Horizon Air employees’.
Russell was born in Key West, Florida and moved to Alaska when he was seven years old, according to a 2017 blog post. He met his wife, Hannah, in 2010 while they were both in school and married one year later. It doesn’t appear that they had any children.
According to Russell’s blog, he and Hannah opened a bakery called Hannah Marie’s Bakery in North Bend, Oregon and ran it for three years.
In 2015, the couple relocated to Seattle ‘because we were both so far removed from our families’, Russell wrote.
‘Failing to convince Hannah of Alaska’s greatness, we settled on Sumner because of its close proximity to her family,’ he posted.
While living in Seattle, Russell started working for Horizon Air writing that he enjoyed being able to travel to Alaska in his spare time. Russel, who was pursuing his bachelor’s degree for social sciences from Washington State University, said he wanted to move up in his company to one day work in a management position.
The Horizon Air worker, however, also had other dreams, writing on his blog that he was considering becoming a military officer.
Russell’s blog is filled with pictures of him and his wife traveling across the globe. The 29-year-old also shared pictures from his wedding day and several videos showcasing what he does at work.
In one video, apparently for a class project, Russell introduces himself as ‘Beebo Russell’ and says he ‘lifts a lot of bags’ at his job.
‘Like a lot of bags,’ he says. ‘So many bags.’
He went on to say that because of his job he's been able to visit places like France, Idaho, Mexico, Ireland and Alaska. Russell ended the nearly two-minute long video by sharing photos of his family members, none of which have publicly commented on the incident.
Russell said in a blog post that he and his wife met in Oregon and moved to Seattle in 2015
It does not appear that Russell and his wife had children. The couple are pictured together in a Facebook photo
Pictured above is Russell at what appears to be at a wedding. He posted the photo at the end of one of his YouTube videos
Rich's main role as a ground service agent was to load and unload bags, direct aircraft for takeoff, and de-ice planes in the winter.
According to a job posting, ground service agents are paid roughly $13.75 an hour and as a full-time employee they receive benefits, travel privileges for themselves and family members and are eligible for a bonus program.
Nowhere in the job description does it mention that ground service agents are permitted to fly planes.
During a press conference on Saturday morning NTSB investigator Debra Eckrote said they are trying to determine 'what his process was and where the aircraft was going'.
'He's ground support so, you know, they have access to aircraft,' she said, adding that that we're 'very lucky' the plane went on a 'very underpopulated island'.
She said the plane came to rest in a thick underbrush on Ketron Island, and first responders had to 'blaze a trail' to get to the wreckage.
Eckrote said the plane is 'highly fragmented' and the wings were torn off in the collision. She said responders could not identify a lot Friday night because there was a fire, but they were taking Saturday to 'focus on the areas that we're looking for'.
Eckrote called the incident 'very usual' and said the FBI were doing a background check on Russell to determine a motive.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Saturday morning that president Trump was briefed on the incident and was monitoring the situation. She also praised the response effort for its 'swift action' and ensuring public safety.
These images show the hijacked Horizon Air Q400 which took off from Seattle-Tacoma Airport on Friday before crashing 25 miles away in south Puget Sound (left, in the air; right, after the crash)
Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland 'minutes later' to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff's Office. Pictured is the hijacked plane, top, and one of the F-15s beneath it
Smoke and an orange glow are seen on Ketron Island in Washington state, where the plane eventually crash landed
During the hijacking Friday night at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Rich joked with air traffic controllers for more than 20 minutes before crashing the plane into an island 25 miles away.
The 29-year-old took off in the 76-seater Horizon Air turboprop Q400 about 8pm after he took it from a maintenance area.
At one point, Rich asked air traffic controllers: 'Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?'
The air traffic controller, trying to keep him on side, replied 'you know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off', to which Rich replied: 'Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy.'
Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland 'minutes' after the plane took off to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff's Office.
Witnesses described seeing the aircraft performing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops as the military planes directed it away from highly-populated areas and towards Ketron Island, where it crashed into a ball of flame.
While still in the air, the pilot was heard telling traffic controllers he was 'just a broken guy' before telling them he was preparing for 'jail time for life'.
Police blamed 'doing stunts in the air and a lack of flying skills' for the crash.
Air traffic controllers begged Rich to land the plane and tried to give him directions to a runway where he could put the plane down in one piece.
'This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me,' he responded.
Sheriff Paul Pastor confirmed the incident was 'not terrorist related' and described it as 'a joyride gone terribly wrong'. He said the man 'did something foolish and may well have paid with his life'.
In a statement just before midnight, Alaska Airlines said a ground service agent took an out-of-service plane without clearance. Part of a ground service agents job is to direct and de-ice planes, as well as managing luggage.
The aircraft was not scheduled for passenger flights, they added.
Police officers standing at a staging ground at the ferry terminal in Steilacoom. Questions will now be asked about security at the airport and how an unqualified worker was given access to the plane
During the air traffic controllers' talk with Rich, they tried unsuccessfully to get him to land the plane.
'There is the runway just off your right side in about a mile, do you see that?' the traffic controller said.
'Oh those guys will try to rough me up if I try land there…,' Rich replied. 'I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn't want to do that. Oh they probably have got anti-aircraft.'
'They don't have any of that stuff, we are just trying to find you a place to land safely,' the traffic controller responded.
Rich told the air traffic controller he wasn't 'quite ready' to bring the plane down.
'But holy smokes I need to stop looking at the fuel 'cos it's going down quick,' he added.
'OK, Rich, if you could, could you start a left-hand turn and we'll take you down to the south-east,' the traffic controller said.
'This is probably jail time for life, huh?' Rich replied. 'I would hope it is for a guy like me.'
Ketron Island, where the plane went down, is a densely wooded area home to 24 people, according to the 2000 census. None of the island's residents were thought to have been harmed.
The terrifying incident has left many questioning the airport's security and how an unqualified worker was given access to the plane. It is also unclear how he was able to take off unhindered.
Royal King told The Seattle Times he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by to F-15s. He said he didn't see the crash but saw smoke.
'It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie,' he told the newspaper. 'The smoke lingered. You could still hear the F-15s, which were flying low.'
The airport was