Law enforcement officials, on the condition of anonymity, have reportedly identified the man who stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport and crashed into a small island in the Puget Sound, as 29-year-old Richard B. Russell.
Several news outlets, including the Associated Press and the New York Times, have confirmed the identity of the pilot, who was a 3.5-year Horizon employee and had clearance to be among aircraft, but wasn’t known to be a licensed pilot. Alaska Airlines, nor the Seattle FBI, have confirmed his identity.
His identity was first confirmed to the Seattle Times, who state that co-workers describe him as “quiet,” and well liked. His family later released a statement saying that Russell’s death is “a complete shock.”
The family of a man who authorities say stole an airplane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and later crashed it called him a faithful husband, loving son and good friend. In a statement, the family says Richard Russell, whose nickname was “Beebo,” was warm, kind and gentle.
WATCH: Suspect in Seattle plane theft details job, shows passion for travel in video
“He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers,” said Rick Christenson, a recently retired operational supervisor with the airline told the Seattle Times. “I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this.”
Russell has been presumed dead in the crash of the Horizon Air Q400 turboprop on Ketron Island, though investigators continue to search the site.
Authorities on Saturday, 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 Friday evening. He was presumably killed about an hour later when the aircraft crashed into a small island southwest of Seattle.
A man, assumed to be Russell, could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is “just a broken guy.” One air traffic controller called him “Rich” and tried to convince him to land the plane.
The man suspected of stealing the plane went by “Beebo” on social media and on his Facebook page. He said he was from Wasilla, Alaska, and lived in Sumner, Washington, and was married in 2012. He once ran a bakery with his wife and enjoyed the benefits that came with his job to travel the world, social media posts showed.
He moved to Alaska when he was seven years old, according to a web page set up for a college communications class.
Russell worked for Horizon Airlines, a sister carrier of Alaska Airlines, as a ground service agent. In this role he helped baggage handlers and was part of Horizon’s tow team, which moved planes around on the tarmac. It was a job that gave him the perk of “being able to fly to Alaska at my leisure,” he wrote on the page.
He met his wife in Oregon in 2010, according to his social media pages, which often showcased their adventures.
“We were married one year later, and one month after that we opened a bakery which we successfully ran for 3 years,” he wrote on his Web page. “We consider ourselves bakery connoisseurs and have to try a new one every place we go,” read one of his posts.
The audio recordings of his conversation with traffic controllers while he was flying the plane were published online by Broadcastify.com. In the recordings, he said he was sorry to disappoint those who cared about him.
“Got a few screws loose, I guess,” he is heard saying in the recording. “Never really knew it until now.”
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters.
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