“Broken Man” Flies Stolen Horizon Airlines Plane Over Puget Sound

“Broken Man” Flies Stolen Horizon Airlines Plane Over Puget Sound

“Broken Man” Flies Stolen Horizon Airlines Plane Over Puget Sound

After living on air stations for years, I would say that I am a bit unfazed by the sound jet noise. So when I heard a loud noise coming from the skies last night, I chalked it all up to a long and bizarre work week, fatigue and Joint Base Lewis-McChord which is about 15 minutes from our home.

Falling sound asleep at around 9:30pm, I was awakened with a message from my husband who was due to arrive at SeaTac at around 10:00pm. The photo he sent was a communication from the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS). Since he’s always sending me crazy names of approaches and stuff that pilots find funny, I didn’t pay much mind to it but looked closer when I saw the message about a popular approach being closed off and F-15s being scrambled and it woke me out of a dead sleep. Then came the news stories and the videos.

The individual who stole the airplane for a joyride in a possible suicide attempt was referred to a “Rick” or “Rich” by air traffic controllers at SeaTac Airport. The worker, a ground service agent for Alaska Airlines’ regional partner, Horizon Airlines, took to the cockpit with a take off time of 7:32pm and communicated with ATC tower whilst circling around Mt. Rainier and The Olympic Peninsula before crashing into Ketron Island, a smaller island in the South Puget Sound region.

“Rich”: …Some gas to go check out the Olympics and errr, yeah.

Air traffic controller (ATC): Ok and Rich, do you know, are you able to tell what altitude you are at?

“Rich”: Yeah that’s all mumbo… I have no idea what all that means, I wouldn’t know how to punch it in. I’m off autopilot.

And the admission and motivation behind it all:

“…just a broken guy. A few screws loose…just now realizing it.”

The Horizon ground agent claimed to learn to pilot an airplane through “experience with video games” and while there is no “key” for the Q-400 (aka Dash 8) aircraft, there is a YouTube tutorial that explains in detail how to get the aircraft up-and-running.

There are many questions as to the how a ground agent was able to gain access to the aircraft and there is little known at this time about witnesses on the ground. Those details will come. This investigation will perhaps prompt tighter security on the maintenance side of the airport where grounds and maintenance agents need to have more access to these aircraft.

There are also the questions as to why. Why would a man steal an airplane, fly it like he stole it and crash it? I think the answer is simple. He was a broken guy, he had a few screws loose. I’ve seen a lot of activity today blaming the airline for not having enough “security measures” in place to prevent this from happening. I’m sure there are people who complained whilst sitting on the runway, waiting to get to their gate and get off their flight (or take off) about the delays in and out of SeaTac last night. I’m sure some of them got crabby with the flight crew, too. I am not going to lie that the thought crossed my mind about this “broken guy with a few screws loose” and his reckless behavior in regard to my very own husband being up in a 737 on approach into SeaTac last night. I am not going to lie that I am thankful and happy today that he came home to us safely-even if it was at 1:30 in the morning. I always send him off with an “I love you” and a “fly safe”. I’ve done it for years and will continue to do so.

The positive in this story is that “Rich” the ground agent did not harm any innocent souls on the blue highway. His manic messages indicated that he was intending to go down in a loud, barrel-rolling blaze of glory. The loud jet noise we heard last night, the flames and the broken aircraft pieces on Ketron Island were sadly the product of the haunting silence of mental illness and depression.

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  • GWB says:

    Lisa, you doubled up on that first quote. Not sure what was supposed to be in the second one.

  • GWB says:

    And, yes, the whole thing is a shame. Wish someone had caught him before he got the plane going. He needed help.
    Instead, he threw away a perfectly good airplane along with his own life (along with scaring a lot of people).

  • Leslie Silk says:

    Don’t jump to conclusions about him being depressed and suicidal. While this incident ended in the death of Richard Russell, we do not know if the plane were shot down by military who were in pursuit, if he attempted to land on Ketron, if he ran out of fuel and crashed, etc. The jumpers on 911 were not suicidal yet they were forced to choose to end their lives. This may be a similar situation in that regard. We have no right to label his demise as suicidal as fact.

    • GWB says:

      Suicidal is the description of his attitude while speaking to air traffic control. So I think it’s apt.

      There’s nowhere to land on Ketron based on what I’ve heard. “It’s only reachable by ferry” was in the first reports I read. On top of which, he didn’t seem to know how to land.
      I’m going to doubt that he was shot down because he didn’t seem to be heading anywhere he might have made an impact. (Sorry about that word, no pun intended.) And the military officers who make up the chain of command that would give the “shoot” order are loathe to be the first ones to have their name attached to shooting down a civilian aircraft.

      Skepticism is fine. But don’t let it obscure actual facts.

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