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.
Richard Russell, who liked to be called Beebo, was a 29-year-old man living in Sumner, Washington, who was born in Key West, Florida, and moved to Wasilla, Alaska, when he was 7 years old, according to a Web page he set up for a college communications class.
He has not been officially named by authorities, but his family and multiple news media outlets have reported his identity.
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, reports Reuters.
It was a job that gave him the perk of “being able to fly to Alaska at my leisure,” he wrote on the page.
In a video posted on YouTube last December, Russell shows luggage coming off and being loaded onto aircraft, and describes what the life of a ground service agent can entail.
“That means I lift a lot of bags, like a lot of bags, so many bags,” he says, adding, “it allows me to do some pretty cool things, too.”
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.
“It evens out in the end,” he says to end the video.
There was no mention in the social media posts of studying to become a pilot but in some posts he spoke of his Christian religious faith and the possibility of joining the military.
On a SoundCloud site, Russell interviews fellow ground service agents, asking them questions that include: “What was one of your best travel experiences using your flight benefits?”
Authorities say he commandeered an empty Bombardier Q400, 107-foot (32.61 m) long turboprop aircraft on Friday night from a maintenance area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
He flew for about an hour, often erratically with attempts at aerial stunts, before crashing on Ketron Island in Puget Sound, about 25 miles (40 km) to the southwest.
He appeared to have acted alone and was suicidal, according to the local sheriff’s department.
His 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.
Russell’s social media posts often showed him on adventures with his wife, who 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 3 years,” he wrote on his Web page. “We consider ourselves bakery connoisseurs and have to try a new one every place we go.”
The couple later moved to Washington state, where he got a job with Horizon. His wife could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Seattle Times quoted Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with the airline who retired in May, as saying Russell was a well-liked, quiet person.
In his final moments captured by partial recordings of his conversations with air traffic controllers that were published online by Broadcastify.com, Russell spoke calmly and said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him and described himself as a “broken guy”.
“Got a few screws loose, I guess,” he is heard saying in the recording. “Never really knew it until now.”
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said F-15 aircraft took off out of Portland, Oregon, were in the air “within a few minutes”, and the pilots kept “people on the ground safe”.
“The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The Associated Press.
“Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.”
He said the man could have caused mass destruction.
“If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.”