Seattle plane thief called himself 'a broken man'

Mr Richard Russell in an undated photograph from a video he produced for his YouTube channel. He worked for Horizon Airlines as a ground service agent who helped baggage handlers and was part of Horizon’s tow team.
Mr Richard Russell in an undated photograph from a video he produced for his YouTube channel. He worked for Horizon Airlines as a ground service agent who helped baggage handlers and was part of Horizon’s tow team.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEATTLE • The airline worker who stole an empty airplane from a Seattle airport on a flight that ended in his death once ran a bakery with his wife and enjoyed the benefits that came with his job to travel the world, social media posts showed.

Yet the man told an air traffic controller he was “just a broken man” minutes before crashing the plane into a small island last Friday.

Mr Richard Russell, who liked to be called Beebo, was a 29-year-old living in Sumner, Washington, who was born in Key West, Florida, and moved to Wasilla, Alaska, when he was seven years old, according to a webpage he set up.

Mr Russell worked for Horizon Airlines, a sister carrier of Alaska Airlines, as a ground service agent who helped baggage handlers and was part of Horizon’s tow team, which moved planes around on the tarmac. It was a job that gave him the perk of “being able to fly to Alaska at my leisure”, he wrote on the page.

A video posted by Mr Russell on YouTube last December shows luggage coming off and being loaded onto aircraft, and he describes what the life of a ground service agent can entail.

There are then shots of trips he took, including flying over Alaskan fjords, visiting lavender fields in France, touring in Yucatan, Mexico, and attending a hurling match in Dublin, Ireland.

Mr Russell’s family members said in a statement they were stunned and heartbroken. “It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man,” the statement said.

Mr Russell’s social media posts often showed him on adventures with his wife, Hannah, whom he said he met in Oregon in 2010. “We were married one year later, and one month after that, we opened a bakery which we successfully ran for three years,” he wrote on his blog page.

He also included photos of his wedding and the travelling he had done.

“He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers,” Mr Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with the airline who retired in May, was quoted by The Seattle Times as saying.

 
 

In an interview with CNN, Mr Jeremy Kaelin, a former co-worker of Mr Russell, recalled him as a “nice guy” and a hard worker. he said he worked with Mr Russell in 2016, and that he remembered “happy, funny” chats with him.

In his final moments captured by partial recordings of his conversations with air traffic controllers, Mr Russell spoke calmly and said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him.

“I would like to apologise to each and every one of them,” he is heard saying in the recording.

“Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2018, with the headline 'Seattle plane thief called himself ‘a broken man’'. Print Edition | Subscribe