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At the Seattle airport, a ground service worker hijacked an empty Bombardier airliner, taking off without the permission of the dispatchers. The plane stayed in the air for more than an hour, and then fell on one of the nearby islands. The hijacker, performing strange tricks, told the dispatcher that he had mastered the operation of the airliner through video games.
A 29-year-old man worked for Horizon Air for more than three years, towing airplanes, cleaning them, and loading and unloading luggage, local authorities said.
According to their information, the hijacker passed all the necessary checks, and his documents were in perfect order.
An employee of the airport, whose name was Richard Russell, according to the American media, took off on Friday evening. To intercept the plane in the air, two F-15 fighters, which accompanied him right up to the moment of the crash, were alerted. According to reports, survive the hijacker failed.
Local police have already stated that the incident is most likely not related to terrorist activities, and the hijacker was suicidal. The plane, which carried out strange maneuvers, managed to videotape dozens of eyewitnesses.
The entire flight lasted about one and a half hours.
Washington Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said that he considered what had happened as an adventure that ended badly: "Terrorists do not usually fly above water.".
How did you manage to hijack a plane?
The hijacking of the aircraft became known on Friday evening; it took off unauthorizedly from Seattle / Tacom International Airport at about 8:00 pm local time.
The hijacker chose the Bombardier Q400, a 76-passenger twin-engine turboprop aircraft owned by Alaska Airlines.
After the ship departed without a dispatcher’s approval, the airport was closed – its normal operation resumed only after an hour and a half.
Passengers posted videos from airplanes at the airport on the social network – the commander of one of them, for example, loudly warned those in the cabin that "the safest now is to stay inside".
After the hijacking of the air base in Portland, two F-15 fighters were raised – many eyewitnesses managed to photograph how a captured Bombardier escorted the fighter. At the same time, according to the police, military planes have nothing to do with the final crash.
The commander of the air force explained that, right up to the crash, the F-15s were trying to steer the plane towards the Pacific Ocean.
The managers of the airline and the airport held a briefing, where they said that the hijacker had permission to access the aircraft, that is, no "security breaches" did not have.
Before his arrival at work, the identity of the hijacker was checked. "He had a shift yesterday, so we assume he was in uniform"- said the head of Alaska Airlines, Brad Tilden.
According to Tilden, the planes have no locks on the doors or an ignition key – safety is ensured by other measures.
"As far as we know, he did not have a pilot’s license."- said the head of Horizon Air, Gary Beck, adding that it is not clear to him how the hijacker could manage such a complex machine.
Police assume the hijacker acted alone.
Aviation expert David Gleave of Loughborough University explained to the BBC that a plane of this size cannot be hijacked, just "turning the ignition key".
However, according to him, if the hijacker managed to launch the onboard systems of the airliner, take off and control it is not so difficult. "There is plenty of space in the sky to run wild. But returning to the ground is already the moment when full skills are required."- says the specialist.
At the same time, Glive believes that it took less than a minute for dispatching services to notice something was wrong.
Who is Richard Russell
The authorities did not officially give the name of the hijacker, but his relatives have already told that this is about the employee of the ground service of Horizon Air airline Richard Russell, nicknamed Bibo.
His relatives "shocked and upset". "This may be hard to believe, but Bibo was a kind-hearted, responsive person. He was a devoted husband, a loving son and a good friend."- said in a family statement.
"He was a quiet guy. It seemed that other employees sympathized with him."- Russell’s former colleague told the Seattle Times newspaper. At Horizon Air, Russell was responsible for towing airplanes, as well as handling luggage.
Russell was 29 years old. After take-off, he contacted the airport dispatcher, who addressed the hijacker Rich or Richard.
On the poeses at the disposal of the media audio recordings, the voice of a man sounds excited. He admits to the dispatcher that he simply broke down and has a little "the roof slid down".
"There are so many people who worry about me. They will be upset when they find out what I have done."- drawn "Rich" to the interlocutor.
Russell’s motives are unknown – the police said that he could have suicidal tendencies, and there is no evidence that he wanted to harm other passengers.
How was the flight?
As follows from the negotiations "Richa" with the dispatcher, the fuel in the plane was enough to fly to the Olympic mountain range in northern Washington state. At the same time, at some point the hijacker said that he would like to look at the killer whale named Tledelya — the media wrote that she had been trying to help a dead calf off the coast of Canada for more than two weeks — Russell was asking for her coordinates.
The dispatcher during the entire conversation tried to persuade Russell to land – he claimed that he was capable of this thanks to the experience of virtual flights in video simulators. In particular, he was offered to sit at the military base Lewis-McCord.
"Oh, buddy, I think these guys will give me a bashing if I try to sit there. And I can hurt something there – I would not want that. In addition, they probably have air defense systems"- answered Russell. His interlocutor unsuccessfully tried to convince him that there was no such weapon on the base.
Despite the controller’s persuasion, the hijacker said he was not ready to land: "But I probably need to stop looking at the fuel level, because it quickly ends".
A few minutes before the crash, he also spoke about the problems with the engines. The dispatcher asked him to stay near water.
One of the eyewitnesses, John Waldro, told CNN that the plane had made a full turn before moving in a straight line: "He flew with a noticeable roll, at some point he almost fell the plane".
"Then he somehow managed to level off again, ”Waldro said. – After that he retired towards the island". According to him, at some point the plane was at a height of no more than 30 m above the water.
On numerous videos, it’s really noticeable how the pilot Bombardier tries to perform aerobatics. The state police also said that Russell was trying to do tricks, but noted that for this he lacked flying skills.
In a conversation with the dispatcher, Russell suggested that he would be given a life sentence for the hijacking. But he immediately asked if he would be given a pilot position in the event of a successful landing.
An hour later, the plane crashed onto the sparsely populated Ketron Island in Puget Bay and crashed. Presumably, Russell died during the crash. It is unclear whether he specifically directed the plane to the ground or simply lost control.
The investigation of the incident took over the FBI. Alaska Air Group said it is working closely with the authorities to figure out what happened.