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The Seattle Times has uncovered new evidence on Richard Russell, the ground crew member for Alaska subsidiary airline Horizon who stole a jet from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in August and died when he crashed the plane after a 75-minute joyride.
According to interviews and newly released emergency dispatch recordings, Russell was caught in the cockpit of an unoccupied aircraft a year before he stole the Horizon Q400 plane from the SEA tarmac.
A pilot for Sky West Airlines, Joel Monteith, called an emergency dispatcher after he saw Russell and another man in the cockpit of an empty aircraft at SEA “pointing and flipping switches.” Monteith said he confronted the two men, and when he asked what they were doing, they said they were learning how to use the aircraft auxiliary power in order to tow it — one of their responsibilities as ground crew.
But for Monteith, their behavior still raised alarm bells — enough so that he called the emergency line. “They kind of … started to get up and then leave the airplane when I confronted them,” Monteith said. “So, that was kind of suspicious.”
The exchange about the incident between Monteith and the emergency dispatcher was captured in an audio recording obtained by the Seattle Times in a state Public Records Act request — one of several new pieces of evidence that surfaced as a result of that information dump.
Furthermore, Monteith, who is 55 and has been a pilot for 30 years, told the dispatcher that he remembered interacting with Russell once in the cockpit of a Embraer E-175 Monteith was flying. In that encounter, Monteith remembers 29-year-old Russell “asking questions (and) wanting to do my flows, which is the preflight preparation I do for takeoff.”
At about 8:00pm local time on August 10, Russell stole an empty Bombardier Q400 aircraft from SEA. Russell did several aerial stunts that he told air traffic controllers he learned from playing “video games before,” and then he crashed the plane on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound after being chased by US Air Force F-15s.
“I don’t think the thing with this guy is like a plot that this dude just came up with like overnight,” Monteith told the Seattle Times. “I think that maybe this guy had been thinking about doing this for a long time and then maybe the Q400 that he took was just an airplane of opportunity.”
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