Crash of Horizon Air Q400 stolen from Seattle airport raises safety concerns

Austin Deppe /

A Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8-400, registered N449QX, was stolen on August 10, 2018, from Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), United States. The aircraft performed a few aerobatic maneuvers before crashing in a forest of Ketron Island.

The empty twin-engine turboprop was stolen by a 29-year-old ground service agent, Richard Russell, employed by Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. Two US Air Force F-15 fighter jets were immediately scrambled to escort the plane after it was reported stolen.

The director of aviation operations at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport Mike Ehl said during a press conference that the security of the airport was not compromised. As ground staff, Russell was in charge of towing and cleaning the aircraft, and thus had proper credentials to access the plane. However, the event is likely to lead to functional changes. The FBI opened an investigation in collaboration with the FAA, the US National Transportation Safety Board and the airlines.

The hypothesis of a terrorist attack was quickly dismissed and the authorities are now describing the event as a suicide. In his conversation with Air Traffic Control (ATC), Russell sounded erratic. “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” he said. “I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”

The ground employee did not have a pilot license, and he confessed to ATC that his sole experience flying came from “video games”. Russell eventually advised he would perform a last “barrel roll” before going “nose down” and “calling it a night”.

The plane crashed in a dense forested area, killing Richard Russell. However local officers say there were no victims on the ground.

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