Former co-worker witnesses stolen plane flight, then discovers he knew the pilot

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Alaska Airlines ground worker at SeaTac International Airport, Richard "Beebo" Russell, stole an empty Horizon Air turbo-prop passenger plane on Friday night August 10, 2018 and flew it for a nearly hour-long joy ride over the water near Steilacoom WA before crashing it into the sparsely populated Ketron Island, killing himself. (photo: KOMO News)

From his yard in Eatonville WA, KVI listener Nick heard the unmistakable sound of the Horizon Air turbo-prop airplane flying 300 feet off the ground.

"I am in awe. Just shocked," Nick told KVI's John Carlson on this morning's show. The Bombardier Q400 was stolen from SeaTac Airport by Horizon Air ground crew worker, Richard "Beebo" Russell, 29, from Sumner, WA.

"To find out a few hours later that it was Richard...", Nick gulped, as he explained his connection with the former co-worker. "I didn't know him personally, I knew him as a co-worker. Greatest guy. First one to help you out. Hard worker. Smiling. Laughing." Nick says he worked at Alaska Airlines two years ago with Russell.

Nick described hearing the sonic boom from the scrambled National Guard fighter jets from Portland, Oregon that were dispatched to intercept Russell's audacious flight. He initially worried that the Horizon Air plane had 70+ passengers on board as it flew erratically against the Friday night setting sun.

Russell worked as a ground service agent. His job responsibilities included towing and pushing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach.

To steal the passenger plane, authorities said he used a tractor (tug) to rotate the plane 180 degrees, positioning it so that he could taxi toward a runway. Russell told Air Traffic Controllers that he only knew how to fly from playing flight simulation video games. The plane didn't require a key for engine ignition but it did require buttons and switches to be activated in a particular order to start the turbo-props.

Listen to Russell's candid and at times emotional conversation with Air Traffic Control who were trying to coax him into landing the plane.

Offbeat News