Man who stole Horizon plane in August acted alone, crashed intentionally FBI finds

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The FBI has found that a former Wasilla man who commandeered a Horizon Air plane from the Seattle-Tacoma airport in August acted alone, and that his final descent into an island off the coast of Washington was intentional.

In a news release Friday, the FBI’s Seattle bureau said it had completed its investigation of the crash, and since 28-year-old Richard Russell died in the crash and worked alone, no federal charges will come from the theft.

The FBI laid out a timeline of events on the day of the crash, and said it found no motive for Russell’s actions.

Based on the aircraft’s flight recorder data, the FBI found that while there was “significant sideslip” on the airplane in the final minute of flight, the airplane was not out of control and the final descent appeared to be intentional. “If the pilot had wanted to avoid impact with the ground, he had time and energy to pull the column back, raise the nose, and initiate a climb,” the FBI wrote.

The plane crashed into Ketron Island, in Pierce County, Washington, southwest of the Sea-Tac airport.

The FBI also listened to the cockpit voice recorder, and found no other significant sounds beyond Russell’s communications on the radio. They found that he did not make any other phone calls from the cockpit or make any other statements that would indicate a motive.

Russell’s work colleagues, friends and family were interviewed. Those interviews and a review of text messages exchanged with Russell did not identify anything that suggested a tie to a wider plot, the FBI said. Nothing in his personal life pointed to a clear motive, either.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner found that Russell died as a result of the traumatic injuries from the crash. His death was declared a suicide.

The report says that Russell did not appear to have violated any security measures or protocols until he took the plane. Some actions he took to remove the plane were actions he was trained to do, and investigators found Internet searches Russell made for flight instructional videos.

The timeline of Russell’s actions that day were laid out as follows:
2:36 p.m. - Russell arrives at Port of Seattle-operated employee security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for his work shift
2:38 p.m. – Russell clears through employee security checkpoint screening, without any anomalies
7:15 p.m. – Russell arrives in a tow vehicle at Cargo 1, at far north end of Sea-Tac airfield
7:19 p.m. – Russell climbs inside Horizon Air Q400 aircraft #N449QX
7:22 p.m. – Russell begins sequence to start aircraft, and propellers start turning
7:27 p.m. – Russell exits plane and uses tow vehicle to turn aircraft nose toward airfield
7:28 p.m. – Russell re-enters the plane
7:32 p.m. – The aircraft pulls away from its parked location
7:33 p.m. – The aircraft takes off from the airport
8:46 p.m. – FDR data shows end of flight, known to investigators as the aircraft crash on Ketron Island in Pierce County, Washington

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