‘We are devastated by these events’ – family of US man who stole plane releases statement

Richard Russell’s family described him as “a warm, compassionate man”. Source: Associated Press


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‘This is probably jail time for life, huh?’ - Audio released of air traffic controller's conservation with US man who stole plane

The man who stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane from Sea-Tac International Airport was Richard Russell, a US official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

The man who stole the plane from Seattle airport discussed landing the plane with air traffic control and also apologised to those who care for him. Source: Associated Press

The official wasn't authorised to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Authorities today said a 29-year-old man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first maneuver the aircraft so he could board and then take off yesterday evening.

He was presumably killed about an hour later when the aircraft crashed into a small island southwest of Seattle.

The bizarre incident involving a worker authorities said was suicidal points to one of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel: airline or airport employees causing mayhem.

"The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat," Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The Associated Press.

"Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane."

Yesterday's crash happened because Mr Russell was "doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills," the Pierce County Sheriff's Department said.

There was no connection to terrorism, Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said.

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on Puget Sound. There were no passengers aboard.

Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon. Those employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.

Southers, the aviation security expert, said the man could have caused mass destruction.

"If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.," he said.

The plane was pursued by military aircraft before it crashed on tiny Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Video showed fiery flames amid trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry.

No structures on the ground were damaged, Alaska Airlines said.

Troyer said F-15 aircraft took off out of Portland, Oregon, were in the air "within a few minutes," and the pilots kept "people on the ground safe."

Sheriff's department officials said they were working to conduct a background investigation on Mr Russell.

The aircraft was stolen about 8pm (local time). Alaska Airlines said it was in a "maintenance position" and not scheduled for a passenger flight.

Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the man "did something foolish and may well have paid with his life."

The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is "just a broken guy." An air traffic controller called the man "Rich," and tried to convince the man to land the airplane.

"There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile," the controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there," the man responded, later adding, "This is probably jail time for life, huh?"

Later the man said: "I've got a lot of people that care about me. It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this ... Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess."

Flights out of Sea-Tac, the largest commercial airport in the Pacific Northwest, were temporarily grounded during the drama.

The plane crashed in a heavily wooded area of thick underbrush on the island, according to Debra Eckrote, the Western Pacific regional chief for the National Transportation Safety Board. The crash sparked a 2-acre wildfire.

"It is highly fragmented," she said of the plane. "The wings are off, the fuselage is, I think, kind of positioned upside down."

The FBI is looking into the 29-year-old's background and try to determine his motive, she said. Investigators are trying to find how he got on the plane.

"He's ground support so they have access to aircrafts," she said of the man.

Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this morning that President Donald Trump is "monitoring the situation."

Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement early this morning that the airline was "working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened."

The airline was coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, he said.

Royal King told The Seattle Times he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by two 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.

Governor Jay Inslee thanked the Air National Guard from Washington and Oregon for scrambling jets and said in a statement "there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident.""

"The responding fighter pilots flew alongside the aircraft and were ready to do whatever was needed to protect us, but in the end the man flying the stolen plane crashed," Governor Inslee said.

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TODAY'S
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Most read story: Meghan Markle's dad hung up on Prince Harry after heated phone conversation

This story was first published on Sunday August 12.

Source: 1 NEWS

Thomas Markle has spoken about hanging up on Prince Harry claiming that he ‘slammed’ the phone down after a heated conversation.

At the time, Mr Markle was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack and it had been revealed that he had staged a series of photographs for a paparazzo.

The Duchess of Sussex’s father says he was "upset" by the Prince's tirade and though he says Harry was "absolutely right" to scold him, he thought the timing of the phone call was "rude", The Daily Mail reports.

According to the Mail on Sunday Mr Markle claimed Harry said, "If you had listened to me this would never have happened".

Mr Markle responded, "Maybe it would be better for you guys if I was dead.. then you could pretend to be sad."

"Then I hung up," he said.

Mr Markle said the royal had warned him about the dangers of colluding with the media.

Mr Markle recalled: "Harry told me that I should never go to the press. That it would end in tears. He said, 'They will eat you alive.' He was right".

Last night Mr Markle reveals in an interview that he lied to Harry when he asked him if he has worked with a paparazzo to pose for shots.

One of the shots reportedly showed him being fitted for a wedding suit. However, Mr Markle told Harry he was being "measured for a hoodie".

In hindsight, he admits Harry was "absolutely right" to criticise him. It was Meghan who dealt with the most painful blow when she told her father he would not be allowed to make a speech at the wedding. "That hurt," he said.

Mr Markle said, "I'm not mad at Harry. I'm not mad at Meghan. I love them. I wish them well. But as for the rest of it, f*** it. I'm done."


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