A Horizon Air Q400 80-seater passenger plane has been stolen from Seattle Airport by a company ground service agent Richard Russell and has subsequently crashed on Kenton Island, which lies between Tacoma and Olympia, in Washington State.
The Q400 did a loop the loop and almost crashed into Chambers Bay, and then flew further south chased by two F-15 Eagle fighter jets from the Air National Guard in Portland.
Those fighters are on 24-hour standby.
The Q400 took off from Seattle’s SeaTac Airport at about 8.30pm local time and crashed about 90 minutes later.
Air traffic controllers tried to talk Mr Russell into landing but he refused. They even got a Q400 pilot in to help with instructions.
Alaska Airlines, the parent company, confirmed that its Horizon Air Q400 “had an unauthorized takeoff from SeaTac around 8pm has gone down near Ketron Island in Pierce County, WA.”
Mr Russell worked for Horizon Air for three and a half years, handling the baggage, cleaning the plane, and was ‘tow certified,’ allowing him to drive the tractors that pull the planes. He went through a 10-year background check to get the job.”
Questions have been raised as to how he was able to start up and taxi the Q400 before taking off illegally.
A former Northwest Airlines maintenance official tells AirlineRatings.com It’s common practice for air carriers to allow their licensed mechanics to ‘run and taxi’ aircraft at busy airports. First, however, they receive special training on the movement of aircraft on the airport. Training complete, they are authorized by the airline to ‘run and taxi.’
It is possible that the air traffic control thought the man was a mechanic.
According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s department, the pilot was a “suicidal male.”
“He was acting alone and he is 29-year-old Pierce county residence. We are working background on him now.”
The two F-15 chased the plane, however, did not shoot down the Q400.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s department said that the “F 15s made it within a few minutes of theft of plane.
It said that the F-15 pilots kept the “Q400 out of harm’s way and people on the ground safe.”
Seattle-based The Air Current.com Editor-in-Chief Jon Ostrower said that “being able to power on and do a rudimentary preflight and engine start on a commercial airliner is not only the purview of trained airline pilots.”
He added that “in the coming days there’s very likely going to be a very, very intense public discussion about high-fidelity simulations of the Bombardier Q400 available for use on home flight simulators.”
These flight simulation programs are available for many aircraft types and replicate the real aircraft cockpit and performance in almost every detail enabling non-pilots to become extremely proficient at flying aircraft, without ever having a license.
Just before he did the barrel roll the ground service agent who stole the plane told ATC;
“I think I am going to try to do a barrel roll and if that goes well then I am going to go nose down and call it a night.”
ATC Audio from the stolen Horizon Air Q400: “I think I am going to try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good then I am going to go nose down and call it a night.” pic.twitter.com/83kpL44rw9
— Benjamin Bearup (@TheAviationBeat) August 11, 2018
Here is a video of the Q400 over Seattle.
Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times. pic.twitter.com/Ra4LcIhwfU
— bmbdgty (@drbmbdgty) August 11, 2018
And here is a video of the barrel roll;
— Cameron Thomsen (@CameronThomsen) August 11, 2018