Richard Russell: Well-liked airline worker who died after stealing plane in Seattle

They were not his last words but they revealed something of Richard Russell’s story as he sat at the controls of a stolen passenger aircraft, a few hundred feet above the ground.

“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me," he told air traffic controllers. "It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this.”

Minutes later he was dead. The empty Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft nosedived into island in Puget Sound, not far from Seattle. 

Relatives and friends of the 29-year-old said they were struggling to reconcile the rogue pilot – whose actions closed an international airport and sent F-15 fighters scrambling into the air – with the likeable young man they knew.

His family – who knew him as "Beebo" – expressed their heartbreak.

Seattle plane crash

"This is a complete shock to us," they said in a statement read by a friend. "We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now. Without him, we would be hopeless."

They also referenced those conversations with air traffic controllers.

"As the voice recordings show, Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone. He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him," they said.

Rick Christenson, a former operational supervisor with Horizon Air, told The Seattle Times: “He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers.

“I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this.”

Officials were quick to point out his work for Horizon as a ground service agent – which included working with baggage handlers and towing aircraft – meant he had cleared the background checks necessary to clean and maintain aircraft.

In a video posted on YouTube last December, Russell showed luggage coming on and off aircraft, as he described the life of a ground service agent.

"That means I lift a lot of bags, like a lot of bags, so many bags," he said, before adding that also allowed him to travel widely.

There was no mention in the social media posts of studying to become a pilot but in some posts he spoke of his Christian religious faith and the possibility of joining the military.

Authorities say he flew for about hour after taking the plane from a maintenance area of Seattle-Tacome International Airport, at times performing stunts such as a barrel role.

The local sheriff’s department said it believed he was suicidal.

The National Transportation Safety Board, one of the investigating agencies, announced yesterday Sunday that the flight data recorder has been recovered from the plane debris and would be sent to Washington DC for analysis in the hope it will provide further information.

The stolen plane smashed into pieces through dense woodland and little of the aircraft is expected to be recovered, it has been reported.

His posts said he met his wife in Oregon in 2010.

"We were married one year later, and one month after that we opened a bakery which we successfully ran for 3 years," he wrote on his web page. "We consider ourselves bakery connoisseurs and have to try a new one every place we go."

The couple later moved to Washington state, where he got a job with Horizon. His wife could not immediately be reached for comment.

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