Was Richard Russell Truly Suicidal? [VIDEO]

Was Richard Russell Truly Suicidal? [VIDEO]

Was Richard Russell Truly Suicidal? [VIDEO]

We now know the name of the Seattle airport worker who took off in a Horizon jet and never returned. His name was Richard Russell, he was a baggage handler at Sea-Tac, and he was suicidal.

Or was he truly suicidal? After all, that’s what the media have been telling us, right?

It started with this tweet from the Pierce County, WA, sheriff after Russell took off in the jet:

The media ran with it. After all, an authority said he was suicidal, so it must be true, right?

Assumptions about Russell’s mental state grew legs on social media, too:

I’m not sure about this particular sheriff, but I suspect he’s not a psychologist. And for the record, neither am I. But as a speech pathologist, I can tell you that those of us who deal with people shouldn’t make snap judgments about diagnoses, like this sheriff did. It’s a big NO in my field.

I did learn some interesting things about Richard Russell, however, and they don’t indicate to me that this was a man in a dark place. Stupid place, perhaps, but not a morbid place.

We know, for example, that he was quiet and well-liked by his co-workers. A friend wrote on his Facebook page: “So heart broken . . . he was such a kind person to me. He would take my shifts if I needed.”

Russell was also a Christian, and met his wife in 2011 at a Campus Crusade for Christ rally at Southwestern Oregon Community College. After they married, they opened a bakery in Oregon, which the couple ran for three years.

Richard Russell and wife.
Richard Russell and wife.

Richard Russell was from Wasilla, Alaska, and longed to return to the state. However, his wife didn’t want to leave her family in the Pacific Northwest, so they sold the business and moved to Sumner, WA. As Russell explained on his Facebook page:

“We decided to sell and move in 2015, because we were both so far removed from our families. Failing to convince Hannah of Alaska’s greatness, we settled on Sumner because of its close proximity to her family. I, meanwhile, obtained a job working for Horizon Airlines (partnered with Alaska Airlines) so I’m able to fly to Alaska at my leisure.”

Here’s the final video that Richard Russell posted at YouTube. Does he seem like a man bent on suicide?

And there’s more:

  • During his ill-fated flight, Russell asked for help in getting the cabin depressurized, since he was feeling light-headed.
  • He also was alarmed at the amount of fuel he was using, as he expressed in his conversations with the traffic controllers:

“I’m down to 2100; I started at like 30-something.”

“Rich, you said you had 2100 pounds of fuel left?” 

“Yeah – I don’t know what the burnage…is like on a takeoff but yeah. It’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected.”

Hmm, to me someone worrying about feeling lightheaded or about remaining fuel doesn’t seem like he’s intent on ending it all. Especially when he could have easily crashed the plane into Puget Sound right then and there.

Finally, there are these little tidbits.

For example, suicide by plane crash is extremely rare, according to industry experts. A recent example would be the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, where the pilot deliberately crashed the plane into the Alps. That pilot also took 144 passengers with him to their deaths. That’s a lot different than Richard Russell, who worried about not having enough fuel, and who said he “didn’t want to hurt no one.”

Now remember the Pierce County police chief, who tweeted that the pilot was “confirmed a suicidal male”? He later said this:

“This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong.”

That’s what I’m suspecting, too.

This incident reminds me of other times when the media jumped onto a sensational story without digging into facts.

Remember what happened to Richard Jewell, the security guard whom the media had pretty much convicted of the bombings at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996? Or how the media in 2006 were positive that the wealthy white boys of the Duke University lacrosse team raped a black woman?

Most recently, an “expert” claimed that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz had fetal alcohol syndrome. And she diagnosed him without having access to any of his medical records, either. You can google ‘Nikolas Cruz fetal alcohol syndrome’ and you’ll find plenty of other websites still peddling this, too.

Now it’s likely that we will never know why Richard Russell took off in that Horizon jet. Perhaps he really did come from a dark place that no one else knew about. But here’s another reason why when news stories like this happen, it’s best not to trust until you verify.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

  • Leslie Petoski says:

    Thank you for providing this perspective. It would seem the media would perhaps appreciate copy cats to this incident. Grabs attention and generates revenue. Our prayers are with Mr. Russell’s family and friends.

  • Jonathan says:

    I do not believe for one minute that Rich intended on killing himself. This guy was super intelligent to be able to fly this plane and do stunts. Unfortunately, the media seems to always jump to the wrong conclusions about everything.

    Gone are the days of investigative reporting in search of the truth. A competent reporter would go searching for the truth….1. Was this guy on any type of medication? I would want to find out what he has taken in the last 48 hours whether it was an over the counter cough/cold medication or an aspirin. 2. Did he have an argument with his wife? 3. Was he repremanded at work by his boss recently? 3. Did he recently get a negative performance evaluation and perhaps wanted to prove to the boss and Horizon that he was SMART?

    The media needs to dig for the truth and nothing but the truth!

    • GWB says:

      This guy was super intelligent to be able to fly this plane and do stunts.
      Uhhhh, no. You can learn to do stunts by rote (at least enough to do them once) – that is, memorizing the altitude you need to start the maneuver, and the actions to complete the maneuver. Evidently (though I can’t point to a source at the moment) he learned to “fly” the Q400 using a home computer flight simulator – certainly enough info there to pull off a stunt or two.

      I can teach any moron to take a plane airborne, go somewhere, and return it to terra firma. What takes intelligence is learning to be a PILOT. Which involves a LOT more (including not bending the jet upon landing). (And being a military pilot involves even more.)

      I won’t argue with the rest of your comment. But, no, you don’t have to be super-smart to get an airplane airborne (or to get it started).

      (Note: I’m not saying this guy was NOT smart. I’m just saying that where assumptions are concerned, that is one that’s false.)

      • John says:

        I am a pilot. I will never ever believe that this guy had no flight training prior to the event.

        As I watch the videos, I see a flight of a pretty much qualified pilot.
        * the gear is retracted
        * the power setting is correct
        * his hand-flying at low altitude is just fine
        There is NO chance that he learned all this just by playing MSFS. He definitely had received flight training, possibly in a full-motion flight simulator.

        • GWB says:

          * the power setting is correct
          How the hell do you know that???

          And, I doubt the flight training – he didn’t know how to pressurize the cabin and he didn’t know how much fuel he would be burning. Those are both absolute basics of flight training (for that sort of aircraft); not so much of using a computer flight simulator. (And I don’t think he used Microsoft Flight Simulator; they just said a “flight simulator program”.)

          There is NO chance that he learned all this just by playing MSFS.

  • GWB says:

    For example, suicide by plane crash is extremely rare
    Well, primarily, that’s because actually getting an airplane to commit suicide with is pretty dang hard. You have to already be in the position to get an airplane, and that’s pretty rare.

    “This might have been a joyride gone terribly wrong.”
    Really? Because … wow, no.

    Now, this might have been a stupid stunt gone wrong, but I doubt a “joyride”.
    Might he have intended to go to Alaska? It’s possible.
    He certainly seemed like a man, though, who had something from which he was trying to escape. It also seems like he might have gone from “perceived serious problems and therefore doing something very stupid” to “suicidal” when he figured out this was going to come back to him after landing.

  • Matt Vorwald says:

    I hate that I have to point this out to someone in the social sciences, but suicidal people often do not show obvoius signs of being suicidal. Being well-liked doesn’t exempt someone from possible suicidal ideation. Being light-hearted up until the end doesn’t preclude the possibility of suicidal ideation. One of my best friends in HS killed himself one night after some trouble — he drove his car up to a park and ran a hose from his exhaust pipe into his cab and went to sleep. That previous night, he partied with friends. He was the most popular guy in school. He was a bit of a class clown, and made everyone laugh. I never saw him frown. Ever. This article reads like someone who has read about suicide in the news, but has never actually seen the two-faced demons in real life. Suicide bears out in many forms and paths, and often strikes the victims you would least suspect.

  • Mark says:

    Of course it was a joyride. It sounds to me like a fella that couldn’t catch a break, who just wanted to live up to his own aspirations for once and obviously knew the consequences. He was smart and compassionate enough to realize the risk to those around him and kept a considerate and safe window of error around himself to not risk unnecessarily other people’s lives. Yes, you could teach someone the rudiments of flying, but you couldn’t teach that feel of controls that he showed when up there. He was a natural! I don’t condone what he did, but I understand his motives, and that’s what scares me! And so do thousands of others who have posted on many websites around the world. There is an oppressive front of political pressure forming in the world that is making it hard for many to realize their destiny, identity politics are part of it, and so is the affirmative action detail he alluded to. You can discredit it all you want, and it will still be felt. Maybe if people got out of their own heads for a bit and considered the states of those closest to us a little more, we could catch those subtle cues, and give people some support before it got to this level. I will fondly revere the “Sky King” for as long as I am alive . I’m not sure why this has hit the world on such an emotional level, but I’m sure it has something to do with the frustration many of us are feeling.

  • John says:

    Well, when it comes to ramming airplanes into business towers, better do it with unregistered airplanes – isn’t it? Having a stock of few unregistered untracked civilian aircraft opens a greenfield of opportunities. You just need a guy who’d bring them to you. For example like a Malaysian MH370 captain. Or a baggage handler in Florida. And if anything goes wrong you can always tell people he was just a suicidal psycho.

  • Bluebelle says:

    While I agree that jumping to conclusions and then the endless perpetuation of those conclusions in the media is an issue, I dont know that i buy that he was not in distress. As to him not sounding as though he was in a dark place, sometimes a suicidal person will appear upbeat or even happier after they have decided to commit suicide and have decided on a plan. Its almost like a strange sense of relief for them. Because Richard never specifically outlined what his motive was, we will never know for sure but I think that his statements about being a “broken guy” and his admission that he “never planned on landing” the plane do unfortunately point in the direction of suicide or that he was at least in a state of mind where he did not or was not able to care what would happen to him. He had mentioned hoping for a moment of serenity while viewing the sights from the plane but that they were “prettier in another context” It makes me think he meant the sights weren’t as nice under the veil of whatever he was feeling. I think he intended to take the plane out and see the sights one last time thinking it would help him feel at peace before ending it. These are just my opinions and sadly everyone, including his family will likely be left wondering why he did it. It’s truly sad and this story really sticks with me in a way other news stories haven’t.

    • GWB says:

      And your comment is why I said I don’t agree with the “joyride” assertion. “Joyride” has implications of just screwing around and walking away at the end. The “stunt” I mentioned might have been something like flying to Alaska to see his family (something that might have weighed heavily on him), or just to fly off into the sunset. Or to do something fantastic (like barrel roll a Q400) before he died – the last bit there makes it not really a “joyride”, though, imho.

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