- Horizon Air Q400 stolen from Seattle-Tacoma Airport by a suicidal ex-employee who flew in loop-the-loops
- F-15 fighters scrambled ‘within minutes’ and directed the plane from populated areas towards the coast
- Plunged into a heavily wooded area on the sparsely-populated Ketron Island and was engulfed by flames
- Police described the pilot as a 29-year-old employee who lived in Pierce County but did not name him
- His main role at the airport was to unload bags, and seems to have had no flying experience
- Extraordinary audio from the airport traffic control tower sees officials addressing the pilot as ‘Rich’
- ‘I’m not ready to bring it down yet,’ Rich says, before joking about how he will have to do ‘jail time for life’
- Friday’s incident caused travel chaos with planes stranded on the runway and several flights delayed
The man who hijacked an Alaska Airlines plane in Seattle on Friday night taking it for a joyride before crashing on an island in a ball of flames was a married 29-year-old Horizon Air employee who dreamed of joining the military.
The ground service agent, referred to as ‘Rich’ and ‘Richard’ by air traffic controllers, was born in Key West, Florida and moved to Alaska as a child.
He met his wife in Oregon in 2010 while they were in school and married one year later. The newlyweds then opened a bakery together, which eventually shut down. They moved to Seattle in 2015.
While living in Seattle, Rich started working for Horizon Airlines with the hopes of working in a management position. He also had dreams of becoming an officer in the military.
His main role as a ground service agent at the airport was to unload bags. He was not permitted to fly planes.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Saturday morning that president Trump was briefed on the incident and was monitoring the situation. She also praised the response effort for its ‘swift action’ and ensuring public safety.
During a press conference on Saturday morning NTSB investigator Debra Eckrote said they are trying to determine ‘what his process was and where the aircraft was going’.
‘He’s ground support so, you know, they have access to aircraft,’ she said, adding that that we’re ‘very lucky’ the plane went on a ‘very underpopulated island’.
She said the plane came to rest in a thick underbrush on Ketron Island, and first responders had to ‘blaze a trail’ to get to the wreckage.
Eckrote said the plane is ‘highly fragmented’ and the wings were off. She said responders could not identify a lot Friday night because there was a fire, but they were taking Saturday to ‘focus on the areas that we’re looking for’.
Eckrote called the incident ‘very usual’ and the FBI were doing a background on Rich to find out a motive.
During the hijacking Friday night at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Rich joked with air traffic controllers for more than 20 minutes before crashing the plane into an island 25 miles away.
The 29-year-old took off in the 76-seater Horizon Air turboprop Q400 about 8pm after he took it from a maintenance area.
At one point, Rich asked air traffic controllers: ‘Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?’
The air traffic controller, trying to keep him on side, replied ‘you know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off’, to which Rich replied: ‘Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy.’
Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland ‘minutes’ after the plane took off to intercept it, according to Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.
Witnesses described seeing the aircraft performing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops as the military planes directed it away from highly-populated areas and towards Ketron Island, where it crashed into a ball of flame.
While still in the air, the pilot was heard telling traffic controllers he was ‘just a broken guy’ before telling them he was preparing for ‘jail time for life’.
Police blamed ‘doing stunts in the air and a lack of flying skills’ for the crash.
Air traffic controllers begged Rich to land the plane and tried to give him directions to a runway where he could put the plane down in one piece.
‘This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me,’ he responded.
Sheriff Paul Pastor confirmed the incident was ‘not terrorist related’ and described it as ‘a joyride gone terribly wrong’. He said the man ‘did something foolish and may well have paid with his life’.
In a statement just before midnight, Alaska Airlines said a ground service agent took an out-of-service plane without clearance. Part of a ground service agents job is to direct and de-ice planes, as well as managing luggage.
The aircraft was not scheduled for passenger flights, they added.