TACOMA, Wash. — Newly released FBI documents show the man who stole a turboprop from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 2018 seemed unsettled to his loved ones before the theft, which ended when he crashed the plane on Pierce County’s Ketron Island.
The records say 28-year-old Alaska Airlines ground worker Richard Russell of Sumner, Washington, entered the empty turboprop passenger aircraft about 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10 as it sat on an airport tarmac and flew it for about an hour and 10 minutes, The News Tribune reported.
The Air National Guard scrambled two fighter jets to intercept the plane, but Russell intentionally crashed it, the records show.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a suicide. People who knew Russell told FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel they had no information indicating they knew of Russell’s plans to steal or crash an airplane, according to the records.
“Contacts with Russell’s employer determined there were no personnel issues,” according to the records. “Russell was known as a quiet guy who read a lot. Russell had a few unexcused absences, but nothing considered significant.”
Other witnesses told FBI agents Russell “failed to go to work Aug. 3 and had expressed feeling as if he was not living up to what others expected of him,” the records show. The witnesses said he went to work Aug. 4 to try to pick up a shift, but the next day he “seemed strange,” and family friends attempted an intervention, according to the records.
“Russell seemed fine to family members after the intervention, though he was drinking more,” the records show. “The week of Aug. 6, Russell seemed fine to family/friends.”
Four days later, Russell entered the plane, taxied and took off without authorization. The FBI found evidence he had been searching flight simulators before the incident. He crashed the plane on sparsely populated Ketron Island. He was the only fatality.
During the flight, Russell talked about his loved ones with air-traffic controllers.
“I would like to apologize to each and every one of them,” he said. “Just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose. Never knew it until now.”
Federal investigators concluded Russell acted alone.