Editor’s note: The Port of Seattle initially sent KOIN 6 News surveillance video of the wrong employee. We contacted the Port of Seattle about the error after hearing from Richard Russell’s family, saying the man in the video wasn’t him. The Port of Seattle looked into the issue, realized its staff sent KOIN 6 News the wrong video and has now provided us the correct video showing Russell reporting for work and then exiting employee security screening about five hours before the FBI says he stole a plane from SeaTac Airport.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nearly 4 years after a Horizon Airlines baggage handler casually stole a passenger plane from SeaTac before intentionally crashing on a small island, KOIN 6 News obtained surveillance video that shows how he managed to do it without anyone noticing.

Richard Russell stole the empty 76-seat turboprop on August 10, 2018 from SeaTac Airport, taking off and doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers.

Russell had no flying experience. While in constant communication with air traffic control, the 28-year-old described himself as “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it till now.”

One hour and 13 minutes after takeoff, the FBI said he intentionally crashed into a tiny island in the Puget Sound and died.

How it unfolded

Surveillance video obtained by KOIN 6 News shows Russell, in a dark t-shirt that said “The Sky’s No Limit,” shorts and work shoes, checking in through Employee Security at SeaTac at 2:36 p.m., about 5 hours before he stole the plane.

He went through the metal detector, collected his scanned belongings from the conveyor, then walks past another Horizon/Alaska employee. It’s the last time he’s caught on surveillance video in the video provided to KOIN 6 News until he’s on the tarmac.

An outside camera has footage of the plane he would steal, a Horizon Q400 owned by Alaska Air.

Just before 7 p.m. Russell arrived in a tow vehicle, drove behind the plane and reappeared at the nose. He tried to attach the tug. But for reasons unknown, he did that 2 more times. Over the next 18 minutes, he drove away from and back to the plane.

After his second trip, another camera captured Russell driving through a cargo area, again for reasons that are unknown. He is seen getting off the tug and running out of sight.

Eight minutes later, Russell was back. He drove the tow vehicle to the front of the plane where, again, he attached the tow bar.

Several minutes pass — and Russell was inside the cockpit.

FBI investigators said he was familiar with the checklist of actions for starting an airplane, a sequence he began to bring the engines to life.

That process took 3 minutes before the propellers started to turn.

But Russell left the plane, got back in the tow vehicle and began pushing the plane back as another employee pulling cargo or luggage trailers passes by — oblivious to what was happening.

Russell drove the tow vehicle out of the way. As soon as he was disconnected the plane began to creep forward. Russell is seen on video running toward the left propeller. He pulled the stairs down, climbed into the cockpit and stopped the plane’s advance.

Employees at the nearby security gate have no idea what is happening behind them.

Four minutes later, Russell rolls the plane out of view.

‘It’s gonna be crazy’

Surveillance footage did not capture what was immediately next, but audio recordings captured the confusion between the tower and other pilots as Russell moved the plane and cut in line for takeoff, as this exchange demonstrates:

Tower: “Aircraft on Charlie lining up Runway 1-6 center, say your call sign.”

Alaska Air pilot: “That aircraft was pressing behind the Horizon when he was taking off full and I don’t know what he was doing.”

Tower: “Who is the aircraft on Runway 1-6 center?”

That’s when Russell spoke with air traffic controllers for the first time.

Russell: “Seattle Ground, Horizon Guy. About to take off. It’s gonna be crazy.”

Alaska Pilot: “His wheels were smokin’ left and right as they are right now as he’s rolling down the runway.”

Tower: “Alright. I’m not even talking to him.”

Surveillance cameras from several different angles showed Russell and the plane took off smoothly.

Alaska Pilot: “He came flying out of the cargo area in front of Delta.”

2nd Pilot: “And it’s just a single pilot in there.”

3rd Pilot: “He came flying out of nowhere. We didn’t even hear. We thought we missed somebody.”

Alaska Pilot: “Tower, you need to call and scramble now.”

Tower: “We are.”

At that point, F-15s were scrambled from the Portland Air National Guard base, the same pilots who train every day for hijackings and terrorist threats. It takes just 15 minutes for the F-15s to fly from Portland to Seattle, using afterburners to go supersonic.

As Russell flew erratically over Puget Sound, the F-15s flanked him.

Controller: “He needs some help controlling his aircraft.”

Russell dismissed that. “Nah, I mean, I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before.”

Air traffic controllers tried persuading Russell to land safely, including at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But he continued dangerous maneuvers before crashing into Ketron Island in Pierce County, Washington at 8:46 p.m. — 73 minutes after he took off.

Horizon employee Richard Russell, seen in this undated courtesy photo, stole a Horizon plane from SeaTac on August 10, 2018. He crashed it intentionally 73 minutes later
Horizon employee Richard Russell, seen in this undated courtesy photo, stole a Horizon plane from SeaTac on August 10, 2018. He crashed it intentionally 73 minutes later

Among his final words, Russell said, “I got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear I did this.”

Russell’s family said they were shocked and had no warning this would happen.

After a months-long investigation, the FBI said they believe the final descent to the ground was intentional. During the final minute of the flight, FDR data showed “significant sideslip on the airplane,” but the plane appeared to remain in control.

The FBI added that if Russell wanted to avoid impact, he had time and energy to pull the column back, raise the nose and initiate a climb.