Rogue baggage handler stole plane and performed barrel roll before fatal crash
On this day five years ago (August 10, 2018) a baggage handler with no flying experience stole a plane and took off in it, performing manoeuvres that impressed even seasoned pilots.
Richard 'Beebo' Russell, 29, worked in the ground crew for Horizon Air at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in Washington State, US. His responsibilities included loading baggage and towing planes.
He managed to get the plane into position, disconnect the tow bar and dash to get on board all without being noticed. It was only when he was rolling towards the runway shortly after 7pm that air traffic control noticed something had gone disastrously wrong.
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Fighter jets were scrambled in response, armed with missiles if it came to it.
Russell started responding to air traffic control a few minutes into his flight on board the huge Bombardier Q400 plane. He said his plan was to "start it up, get it to go – a couple hours, I guess".
He told them he was a "broken guy" with a "few screws loose I guess". "Never really knew it until now," he said. At one point, with air traffic control begging him to land the plane, he asked whether Alaska Airlines (who operated the plane) would give him a job as a pilot if he managed to land it.
"They would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off," he was told.
Russell explained he'd "played video games before", adding: "I know what I'm doing a little bit." It later emerged he'd been spotted by a pilot with another man a year previous, pointing at and flipping switches inside a cockpit.
They claimed they were training to use the aircraft's auxiliary power unit so they could tow it, although the pilot found it "suspicious" when the men left after he confronted them.
Russell told air traffic control he wanted to do "a couple manoeuvres to see what it can do", and towards the end of his roughly one hour and 15 minute flight he performed a barrel roll that brought him just three metres from the water of Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.
A veteran pilot said the manoeuvre "seemed pretty well executed, without either stalling or pulling the wings off". Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck later said Russell's handling of the plane was "incredible", adding he "did not know how [Russell] achieved the experience that he did".
After the barrel roll he was asked to land the plane again. He explained: "I don't know. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was gonna be it, you know?
"[I] wasn't really planning on landing it."
He went on to apologise to his friends and family before intentionally crashing the jet into the sparsely populated Ketron Island, killing himself and destroying the plane.
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