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03rd Jul 2023

Baggage handler with zero flying experience took off in stolen jet from airport

Charlie Herbert

He learned how to control the plane through video games

A baggage handler with no flight experience managed to steal a plane and take off in it back in 2018, before perishing in a crash 30 miles away.

On August 10, 2018, at 07:32pm, Richard Russell, 29, managed to steal an Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington.

In footage from the day he stole the plane shows him walking through airport security at the start of the day with a “The Sky’s No Limit” T-shirt before heading into a restricted area meant for baggage handlers five hours later.

He was then able to get onto a tarmac tow vehicle and drag the plane onto the runway, without anyone stopping him.

Russell said he’d learned how to operate the aircraft by playing video games (Richard Russell blog)

As the 76-seat passenger plane rolls forward, he opened the cabin door and jumped inside, before telling air traffic control: “Seattle ground Horizon guy. About to take off. It’s gonna be crazy.”

The aircraft had no passengers on board, but the airport was shut down as a result of Russell’s actions.

In audio from the incident, air traffic controllers can he heard asking who is controlling the plane, with a pilot telling them: “Tower, you need to call and scramble now.”

After taking off, an air traffic controller said that Russell “needs some help controlling his aircraft,” to which Russell responded: “Nah, I mean, I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before.”

In other messages to those on the ground, Russell can be heard saying he was “just gonna soar around.”

After taking off, the aircraft was followed by F-15 Eagle jets.

As people tried to convince him to come back down, he said: “Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?”

When he was given options for potential airfields and runways he could land at, he refused to because he “might mess something up there” and that he “wouldn’t want to do that.”

He told air traffic control he was “just a broken guy”, that he “had a few screws loose” but “never really knew it ’til now.”

Eventually, after 73 minutes in the air, he deliberately crashed the plane into Ketron Island, an area about 25 miles south-west of the airport and home to just a dozen residents, the Guardian reports.

Russell did not survive the crash.

Before he put the plane into the nosedive, 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.”

In a statement following the incident, his family said: “It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo [their nickname for Russell] was a warm, compassionate man.

“He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend. A childhood friend remarked that Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to each person he met.

“As the voice recordings show, Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone. He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”

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