Sea-Tac stolen plane crash: Data recorder, human remains found

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport said an airline employee stole a plane Friday and died after crashing on an island in Puget Sound, according to multiple news sources.

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According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Richard Russell, the “suicidal” 29-year-old airline employee died when he crashed an unoccupied Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 on Ketron Island, 40 miles from the airport. 

The man spoke with air traffic controllers while doing stunts in the air. 

Update 1:03 a.m. EDT Aug. 13: Federal investigators have found the flight data recorder and “components of the cockpit voice recorder” from the crashed plane, The Associated Press reported late Sunday. The items are being processed by the National Transportation Safety Board, officials said.

The FBI also found human remains at the crash site, and officials confirmed that Russell died in the incident, the AP reported.

Read more here.

UPDATE 2:41 p.m. Aug. 11: FBI and airline officials said investigators are still attempting to reach the crash site, located in dense brush on Ketron Island. 

Jay Tabb, lead investigator with the FBI, said investigators have not been able to verify whether the man in the cockpit was the only person on the plane.

The man, who has not been identified, was employed by Horizon Air for three and a half years. He was credentialed to be around air crafts and passed criminal background checks, Horizon Air officials said. 

>>PHOTOS: Unauthorized plane takes off from Sea-Tac Airport, crashes 

Alaska Airlines CEO and chairman Brad Tilden said they believe the man worked his shift at the airport that night and was in uniform when he stole the plane.

The man was part of the airline grounds crew and his duties included loading and unloading luggage, along with cleaning airplanes between flights. 

He also towed planes across the runway, Tilden said.

He performed complicated maneuvers to get the plane in the air, officials said. 

He used a push back trailer to rotate the plane 180 degrees to position it on the runway.

Tabb said the man was not known to have a pilot’s license and wouldn’t speculate on how he learned some of the “incredible maneuvers” performed before the crash.

During the man’s “unauthorized” flight, two military jets in Portland were positioned to respond, Tabb said.

No ground structures were damaged.

>> Ketron Island: 10 things to know

Tilden said that about 75 flights were delayed Friday evening while the plane was in the air.

Sea-Tac International Airport resumed full operations by 1 a.m. Saturday morning. 

Tilden said the company is “deeply saddened” by the situation and offered “sincere sympathy to family, loved ones and coworkers.”

UPDATE 11:50 a.m. Aug. 11: In a press conference Saturday, NTSB investigators said they would be searching Ketron Island for the plane’s black box and cockpit data recorders, which will be transported to Washington, D.C. for further examination.

The plane is fragmented and the wings have been ripped off the plane, NTSB officials said. The aircraft also has significant fire damage from when it crashed overnight. 

Investigators will be conducting interviews and continuing their search in daylight hours.

UPDATE: 5:11 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: The mechanic who took the plane was described by co-workers as “super normal.” He was tasked with moving planes from the cargo area to the flight line between commercial flights. Meanwhile, the FBI office in Seattle has taken over the case. Officials said there are no new updates.

UPDATE: 3:04 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted that there were “still a lot of unknowns” about the crash. Inslee also thanked the Air National Guard units from Washington and Oregon for their efforts. “Those pilots are trained for moments like tonight and showed they are ready and capable.”

UPDATE: 2:13 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: In a YouTube video released early Saturday, Horizon Air Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen said she believed the plane was taken by a Horizon employee. “Our hearts are with the family of the individual aboard as well as all our Horizon Air and Alaska Air employees,” she said.

UPDATE: 2:01 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the F-15s that were sent to follow the unauthorized plane were scrambled out of Portland, Oregon. The spokesman also said a sonic boom was caused by an Air Force plane and was not an explosion, as originally believed.

UPDATE: 1:19 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said they were told that F-15s made it within a few minutes of the plane’s unauthorized takeoff. Pilots kept the plane out of harm’s way, the spokesman said.


UPDATE: 1:10 a.m. EDT Aug. 11: The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the unauthorized pilot was a 29-year-old man from Pierce County who was acting alone. A spokesman described the man as “a suicidal male” and they know his identity. The spokesman added that it was not a terrorist incident.

UPDATE: 12:57 a.m. EDT Aug. 11:  Video from a witness shows the Bombardier Q400 passenger plane veering through the sky near Puget Sound near Seattle :

UPDATE 12:45 a.m. EDT Aug 11: The Pierce County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that the Bombardier Q400 passenger aircraft has crashed in an island in Puget Sound near Seattle.


Earlier: Alaska Airlines says it is aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air plane.


Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West.

Please check back for updates

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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