The Horizon Air employee who stole an airplane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday before eventually crashing it has been identified as Richard Russell, according to the Associated Press and multiple other outlets. Authorities have not yet formally confirmed Russell’s identity.
Russell’s family reacted to the shocking incident in a prepared statement read by a family friend, Mike Matthews, at a press conference over the weekend, NBC News reported, calling him by a nickname, “Beebo.”
“On behalf of the family, we are stunned and heartbroken,” Matthews read. “It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo [Russell] was a warm, compassionate man. It is impossible to encompass who he was in a press release. 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.”
The statement continued, “This is a complete shock to us. We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now. Without him, we would be hopeless. 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.”
Russell allegedly stole the Horizon Air Q400, which had no passengers on board, at around 8 p.m. local time on Friday. He later crashed on Ketron Island, igniting a fire. He is believed to be deceased. The airport was temporarily shut down as a result of the incident.
“There was an incident late yesterday involving the unauthorized operation of one of our aircraft that took off from Sea-Tac around 8 p.m.,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement early Saturday. “We are still gathering facts, but at this point we understand there was only one person aboard, an employee of Horizon Air, who was operating the aircraft. I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident. Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved.”
“We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation,” Tilden continued. “With these investigations underway, our focus will remain on supporting the family of the individual involved, the broader Alaska and Horizon family, and our communities and guests.”
On Saturday, the Pierce County Sheriff said the hijacking was not a “terrorist incident.” “Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29-year-old Pierce county residence [sic],” the department tweeted.
The Seattle FBI tweeted on Saturday that despite “the intense interest in the individual responsible for Friday night’s unauthorized flight of a Horizon aircraft” providing any further details would be “premature” as the “investigation is still in its early stages.”
The air drama was broadcast live over air traffic control monitoring sites. During the radio exchange, an air traffic control personnel by the name of Captain Bill attempted to steer Russell away from flying over the airport in order to avoid a collision that would risk the lives of multiple people.
Speaking to the air traffic control personnel, Russell said, “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”
The plane was seen by a number of witnesses doing stunts before crashing. People who witnessed the incident shared videos on Twitter.
Tilden said that the ground-services employee was with the company for four years, and was working a shift when the incident occurred. “It was his job to be around airplanes,” Tilden said during a Saturday press conference.
Russell’s former coworker, Rick Christenson, described him to The Seattle Times as a “quiet guy.”
“It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers,” Christenson recalled. “I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this.”
“Everybody’s stunned… that something like this would happen,” Christenson told the outlet. “How could it? Everybody’s been through background checks.”
According to the Seattle Times, Russell was married, and had previously owned an Oregon bakery with his wife. The outlet reported that he was also a Christian youth leader.
Russell posted a YouTube video about his job and his travels in December. “Hi, I’m Beebo Russell, and I’m a ground service agent. That means I lift a lot of bags. Like, a lot of bags. So many bags,” he narrated the clip. “I usually have to work outside in this [rain], but it allows me to do some pretty cool things, too.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.