Family members of the man who stole an empty plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, prompting a security scare before his death from crashing the plane into a sparsely populated island, have released a statement expressing their shock and grief over the incident.
A family spokesperson, Mike Mathews, read out a statement on Aug. 11 saying the Richard “Beebo” Russell’s family was “stunned and heartbroken” over his death.
“He was a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend. A childhood friend remarked that Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to each person he met,” Mathews said at the news conference. “This is a complete shock to us.”
Russell, 29, a local ground service agent who assisted baggage handlers, has been identified by media as the man who operated the unauthorized flight on Aug. 10. He used a pushback tractor to maneuver a Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft for take-off around 8 p.m. that night.
Two F-15C alert aircraft were quickly dispatched to intercept the plane, seeking to redirect Russell out over the Pacific Ocean to avoid populated areas, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The plane then crashed about an hour into the flight in a wooded area on Ketron Island in the southern end of Puget Sound. Russell, who has not been officially identified, was believed to be the only person onboard and was presumably killed, according to officials from Alaska Airlines.
According to the statement, family members said they were devasted by the events and that “Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now.”
“Without him, we would be hopeless,” Mathews read.
A recording of a live air-traffic control feed obtained by Seattle Times has since revealed the conversation between air traffic controllers and a man referred to as “Rich” and “Richard” before the crash.
During the conversation, “Rich” became concerned about how quickly the fuel was burning and said he wanted to “go check out the Olympics.”
The family statement said the voice recordings showed that Russell’s “intent was not to harm anyone.”
“He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him,” the statement said.
Authorities from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board are currently investigating the incident, with the FBI leading the investigation.
In the FBI’s latest update, Acting Administrator Dan Elwell said in a statement that they were deeply saddened by the loss of life.
We appreciate the partnership of the FAA, NTSB, and many other agencies across federal, state, local, and private sectors RT @FAANews: The following #FAA statement is from Acting Administrator Dan Elwell regarding the #N449QXIncident at @SeaTacAirport. pic.twitter.com/0g90zIdFyd
— FBI Seattle (@FBISeattle) August 12, 2018
Officials from Alaska Airlines are also assisting with the investigation.
“We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement on Aug. 11.
The local sheriff’s department confirmed that Russell appeared to be suicidal and that the unauthorized flight was not a terrorist incident.
Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence . We are working back ground on him now.
— Pierce Co Sheriff (@PierceSheriff) August 11, 2018
Russell posted a video on YouTube last December showing luggage coming off and being loaded onto aircraft. In the video, he described what the life of a ground service agent was like.
“That means I lift a lot of bags, like a lot of bags, so many bags,” he said. “It allows me to do some pretty cool things, too.”
The video also consisted of footage of trips he took, including flying over the Alaskan fjords, visiting lavender fields in France, and touring the Yucatán in Mexico.