The family of the Seattle airport worker who crashed a stolen commercial plane issued an emotional statement Saturday baring the shock and heartbreak of his death.
“We are stunned and heartbroken,” Richard Russell’s family said in a statement read by a friend. Russell, who was called “Beebo,” was a “warm, compassionate man,” the statement added. “He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend. Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to everyone he met.”
The family called his actions a “complete shock. We are devastated by these events. Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now. Without him, we would be hopeless.”
Authorities said that Russell, 29, took off Friday evening in an empty, 76-seat Q400 Horizon Air turboprop plane at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport without authorization. Russell, who was not trained as a pilot, flew for about an hour as air traffic controllers and pilots tried to talk him down. He joked with them, gushed about Washington’s Olympic Mountains that he could see from the air, and dropped hints that he had no intention of landing — or surviving — in a poignant exchange that could be heard live on the internet.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” Russell said at one point. “I would like to apologize to each and every one one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess — never really knew it until now.”
The family’s statement said the exchange shows that “Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone. He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”
The plane was trailed by F15 fighter jets, and it eventually crashed on sparsely populated Ketron Island in Puget Sound. Russell is presumed dead. No one else was hurt in the crash. Russell appeared to be trying tricks in the air when the plane suddenly plunged to the ground. He had talked to controllers about trying to pull off a “flip” or a “barrel roll” ending with “nose down and call it a night.”
Russell worked for Horizon Air — a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines — for over three years. Before that he and his wife ran their own bakery for three years, Reuters reported.
“We don’t know how” he was able to fly the plane, Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck told NBC. “We don’t know how he learned to do that.” Beck told The Seattle Times that Russell “pulled off some incredible maneuvers.”
Russell joked to air traffic controllers that he could do fly the plane because he had played so many video games.
He also asked if controllers thought Alaska Air would make him a pilot if he could land the plane. One responded: “I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off.”
Russell responded: “Yeah, riiight.”
Russell was a well-liked worker known as a quiet guy, according to a colleague, The Seattle Times reported.
A video posted to YouTube appears to have been made by Russell about his job. “I lift a lot of bags,” he says on the video. ” Like a lot of bags, sooo many bags.” But he also included stunning scenes from his several trips.
“It evens out in the end,” he concluded.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.