An airline employee has died after stealing an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and crashing the aircraft into a small island in the Puget Sound.
The man, who has been an employee of Horizon for three and a half years, was not a licenced pilot but had clearance to be among the aircraft.
The ABC reports investigators are still trying to work out how the 29-year-old, who has been identified as Richard Russell, managed to steal the aircraft and how he managed to do loops in it before crashing an hour later.
Military aircraft pursued the man before he crashed on Ketron island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington.
— USA TODAY Video (@usatodayvideo) August 11, 2018
Horizon air CEO said he wasn’t sure how the Russell even started the plane, according to the ABC.
“We don’t know how he learned to do that,” he said.
“There were some manoeuvres that were done that were incredible manoeuvrers with the aircraft.
“Commercial aircraft are complex machines. They’re not as easy to fly as, say, a Cessna 150, so I don’t know how he achieved the experience that he did.”
During an emotional conversation with air traffic control, Russell said he didn’t need much help in adjusting the cabin pressure as he’d “Played some video games before.” reported News Corp.
He also described himself as “broken” and mentioned “minimum wage”, leading many to believe financial problems may have been the reason behind his suicidal act.
The incident also raises concerns about airport security.
“The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert told the ABC.
“Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.”
“If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.”