A 29-year-old "suicide" airport worker who seized an empty plane from Seattle's main airport and took it on a one-hour flight chased by F-15 fighter jets before crashing into a small island did not commit any violations Security, officials said Saturday.
Horizon Air employee, Richard Russell, told an air traffic controller that he was "just a man torn apart" minutes before dying Friday night on the twin-engine turboprop aircraft Bombardier Q400, appearing to apologize for his actions. Law enforcement officers identified him to the media in the United States.
The authorities ruled out any link to terror. Russell "had legitimate access" to the plane, said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport in the northwestern state of Washington, adding that "no security breaches were committed."
A video taken by a bystander showed that the 76-seat plane formed a large slow loop while American Air Force F-15s chased and then flew over Puget Sound before crashing into sparsely populated Ketron Island, setting trees ablaze. .
"As far as we know, he did not have a pilot's license," Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon, an affiliate of Alaska Airlines, told reporters.
"Commercial airplanes are complex machines … I have no idea how he achieved that experience."
But Russell's role at Horizon, where he worked since 2015, involved towing planes as part of a two-person team, in addition to loading and unloading cargo and luggage and cleaning the plane, according to Beck.
"At this time, we believe he was the only one on the plane, but of course, we have not confirmed it at the accident site," said Jay Tabb, head of the Seattle division of the FBI.
Joyrider or suicide?
Dismissing a terrorist link, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said that "most terrorists do not loop over water … This could have been a terribly bad pleasure trip."
Ed Troyer, from the sheriff's office, described Russell as "suicidal."
Russell lived locally and had acted alone. The initial information said that he was an airline mechanic.
Rick Christenson, operational supervisor of the recently retired airline, said he and Russell's other former colleagues were "stunned".
"He was a quiet guy, it seemed that other workers liked him a lot," Christenson told the Seattle Times. "I feel really bad for Richard and his family, I hope they can overcome this."
The plane was stolen around 8:00 p.m. (0300 GMT Saturday) and crashed 90 minutes later, authorities said.
The sheriff's office said the F-15s arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the plane "out of danger and people on the ground safe."
The fighter jets flew at supersonic speed, which caused a boom that was first considered an explosion, while they ran to intercept the plane.
President Donald Trump received information and the White House praised the authorities' rapid response to the crisis.
& # 39; Broken Boy & # 39;
John Waldron, who captured the plane's loop-the-loop video, told CNN he was out for a nighttime ride and initially thought the plane was practicing for an air show.
He estimated that the plane, at its lowest point, was not more than 100 feet (30 meters) above the water.
As Russell plummeted into the water, "we all shouted, 'My God, my God!' And I shouted, 'Get up, get up!' Said Christenson.
In a conversation with the control tower, the pilot was excitable, confused and even apologized.
"Congratulations, you did it," the control tower tells him, according to an audio broadcast issued by CNN.
"Turn the air and land and do not hurt anyone on the ground."
"I do not know, friend," the pilot replies. "I do not want to, I was hoping it was that, you know."
During the conversation, the man says he had put some fuel on the plane "to go see the Olympic Games": the Olympic Mountains that are 160 kilometers (160 miles) away.
But later he worried that he was running out of fuel, saying the fuel had burned "a lot faster than he expected."
The control tower urged him to land at a nearby military base.
"I would not like to do that, they probably have antiaircraft," he replies.
"This is probably jail for life, huh?" then says, according to a recording published by The Seattle Times.
"I have a lot of people who care about me, they'll be disappointed to hear I did this," he said.
"I would like to apologize to each and every one of them, just a broken guy with some loose screws, I guess, I've never known it until now."