THIS is the first picture of a “suicidal” airport employee who stole a plane from Seattle airport and performed dangerous stunts before crashing it in a huge fireball.
Married ground service agent Richard Russell, 29, “hijacked” the Alaska Airlines plane before taking it for a joy ride as he was pursued by fighter jets above Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
Harrowing audio revealed the pilot joking with the controllers who begged him to land the 76-seater Horizon Air Q400 before it nosedived and burst into a fireball 25 miles from takeoff.
He also told them he was a “broken man” and apologised to the air traffic controller, saying: “I hope this doesn’t ruin your day.”
At one point, he said: “Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?”
Astonishing video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous manoeuvres.
The mechanic, referred to as “Rich”, said he wanted to do “a barrel roll, and if that goes good… nose down and call it a night”.
He added: “I wouldn’t know how to land – I wasn’t really planning on landing it.”
Russell, who dreamed of joining the military, then said that he had thrown up and that he felt “dizzy”, adding: “I’m sorry about this, I hope it doesn’t ruin your day.
“Man, the sights went by so fast. I was thinking, like, I’m going to have this moment of serenity, take in all the sights. There’s a lot of pretty stuff, but they’re pretty in a different context.”
Russell, who ran a bakery with his wife Hannah until it shut down in 2015, crashed on Ketron Island, 30 miles south west of Seattle, at 8pm local time.
He met Hannah in 2010 when they were both in school and married her one year later, according to one of his blog posts.
They ran Hannah Marie’s Bakery in Oregon for three years before moving to Seattle to be closer to their families in 2015.
That is when Russell, who had dreams of joining the military, started working for Horizon Air and travelled to his home state of Alaska when he could.
Russel was studying for a degree in social sciences from Washington State University and wanted to move his way up to manager level in his company.
In his call to air traffic controllers, the man also described him as having a “few screws lose” but didn’t realise until now.
It is still unclear how Russell, who is not believed to have a pilot’s licence, managed to steal the jet and get it into the air without anyone noticing.
Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said: “We don’t know how he learned to do that. Commercial aircraft are complex machines. No idea how he achieved that experience.”