The FBI's investigation into the theft of a Horizon Airlines plane from SeaTac International Airport on August 10 has concluded.
Richard "Beebo" Russell, a 28-year-old baggage handler for Horizon, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, stole a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 from the airport, took it for a spin, and ultimately crashed on a sparsely populated island in Puget Sound. According to the FBI's investigation, the crash was intentional. "If the pilot had wanted to avoid impact with the ground he had time and energy to pull the column back, raise the nose, and initiate a climb," the report concludes.
The FBI said there was no reason to think this was a part of a terrorist act, and in audio recordings of the incident, Russell sounds almost euphoric. He jokes around with air traffic control, asking if he thinks he'll get a job as a pilot, pulls off a barrel roll, circles around Mount Rainier, and in his final moments, apologizes to his friends and family. While the FBI found no "clear motivation" for Russell's decision to hijack an airplane and crash it into an island, at one point during his flight he referred to the low wages he made for Horizon/Alaska Airlines, "Minimum wage, we'll chalk it up to that," he said. "Maybe that will grease some gears a little bit with the higher-ups."
Was this really about wages? We'll likely never know, but Todd Bunker, one of Russell's former coworkers wrote about the perils of the job, which Russell held for four years, for The Stranger.
"If the environment itself isn’t enough to persuade you that you are nothing more than a cog to the upper management/shareholders, there are plenty of other, even more exasperating reminders," Bunker wrote. "You are making around $3 less per hour than anybody else at SeaTac (including other airline employees, restaurant employees, car rental employees, bus drivers, etc.), although there are benefits! Health insurance and stock options might be nice, but they don’t pay the rent."
Richard Russell, known as "Sky King" in his last moments, was survived by his wife Hannah.