An airline employee who said he learned to fly from “video games" stole an empty plane from Sea-Tac airport in Washington on Friday and took it on an hour-long joyride before crashing on a remote island.
Richard Russell, 29, worked as a ground agent for Horizon Air at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport but was not a licensed pilot, according to the Associated Press. Late Friday evening, he got behind the controls of a 76-seat Q400 turboprop passenger plane and took off.
Videos of the plane taken by onlookers on the ground shows it doing large loops, barrel rolls and other stunts in the sky above Puget Sound as the sun set.
"There were some maneuvers that were done that were incredible maneuvers," Brad Tilden, the CEO of Horizon’s parent corporation, Alaska Air, said, according to CNBC. "I don't know how he achieved the experience that he did,” Tilden added.
Video also showed military fighter jets following the plane, but authorities say the fighters did not fire on Russell before he crashed on a small island in the sound, the Associated Press reports.
Human remains were found at the scene, and Russell is presumed to have died in the crash, the FBI said on Sunday. Other than Russell, no one else was hurt and no buildings were damaged on Ketron Island -- the small, sparsely populated were Russell crashed.
Russell’s family released a statement on Saturday saying they were “stunned and heartbroken” over the death of a man they called Beebo.
“It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man. It is impossible to encompass who he was in a press release. He was a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend,” the family said in the statement, ABC news reported.
In a video Russell made and posted to YouTube in December, he explained his job and some of his thoughts about it.
“Hi. I’m Beebo Russell, and I’m a ground service agent,” the video begins. “That means, I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags.”
“But it allows me to do some pretty cool things too,” Russell said, as images from France, Mexico, Maine and other places he apparently visited roll by. “It evens out in the end,” he said.
While Russell was airborne, he joked and laughed with an air traffic controller who asked if was comfortable “just flying the plane around,” a recording of the conversation, released to the press, shows.
“I played video games before, so, you know, I know what I’m doing a little bit,” Russell told the controller, the New York Times reported.
Experts, the Times said, were divided on whether a person could learn to take-off and fly based on experience gained from video games or flight simulators, but most thought that landing was beyond the reach of someone with no actual flight experience.
While Russell’s conversation with the air traffic controller was conducted in a light-hearted, he also expressed raw emotions and regret about the pain he knew his actions would inflict on his family, recording of the conversations show.
“I got a lot of people that care about me,” Russell said. “It's gonna disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them,” he said.
“Just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew ‘til now.”
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