To be honest, much of what plane thief Richard Russell said to the air traffic controller during the last flight of his life was not that interesting. Even the thing about him being a white man, and therefore underappreciated by his society, which is run by white men, was pretty standard stuff. What the recorded exchange revealed was a regular guy who may have snapped because he wanted more out of life than his lot: a wife, a place in Pierce County, a low-paying job at the airport. He forced the world to see his last hour. Some even saw it as glorious. A sky king. But just before Russell crashed, someone did say something interesting, something that caught and gripped my attention instantly. The words, however, were not spoken in that dusky, Friday sky that rung in orange "like a stellar carrot," but on the ground, in the yard of a home in or near Tacoma.
The plane catches a family by surprise. They begin filming it. It is way too low. The man heard in the 45-second video knows the type of plane, the company that owns it (Alaska Airlines), and that something is very wrong. Is this an emergency landing? The kids in the yard are totally freaking out. A woman expresses fear and dread. What the hell is going on? And just after the plane disappears behind some trees on a hill, the man in the yard says: "Go get the truck keys and my wallet."
Those words amazed me. I listened to them again and again. The truck, the keys, the wallet. Who is the man giving this command to? A woman? Another man? A child? Why can't he just get the keys and the wallet himself? Is the situation so bad that he has to keep an eye on the sky and god knows where as his keys and wallet are retrieved? This is so interesting.
And the wallet? I could not help imagining what it looked like. Was it thick and old? Dark brown? Leather? Packed with cards? Filled with bills? The man registered the situation as one of great importance, and so right away he needed the essentials: his truck and his wallet. And where were the keys? And the wallet? In the bedroom? The kitchen? The living room? The carport? Someone knew and had to get them quick.
I wish the recording had the barking of a dog, because I could then imagine a trusty hound running, upon those words, into the house and retrieving, with its mouth, the keys from a coffee table and the wallet from a bedside table, then racing down the stairs, across the kitchen (maybe a dog door), and, once outside, giving these wanted things to the master. The wallet is put in the back pocket, the engine is ignited, and, as the dog barks at the truck, the man of the house revs up and rips and leaves the women and children in a cloud of dust.