“We are stunned and heartbroken,” Richard Russell’s family said in the statement, read by a friend. Russell, who was called “Beebo,” was a “warm, compassionate man,” the family said. “He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend. Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to everyone he met.”
The family called his actions a “complete shock. We are devastated by these events. Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now. Without him, we would be hopeless.”
Authorities said Russell, 29, took off Friday evening from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in an empty, 76-seat Q400 Horizon Air turboprop plane without authorization. Russell, who was not trained as a pilot, flew for about an hour as air traffic controllers and pilots tried to talk him down.
He joked with them, gushed about looking out over Washington’s Olympic Mountains, and dropped hints that he had no intention of landing, or surviving, in a poignant exchange that was heard live on the internet.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” Russell said at one point. “I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess — never really knew it until now.”
The family’s statement said the exchange shows that “Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone. He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”
The plane was trailed by F15 fighter jets and eventually crashed on sparsely populated Ketron Island in Puget Sound. Russell is presumed dead. No one else was hurt in the crash. Russell appeared to be attempting tricks when the plane suddenly plunged to the ground. He had talked to controllers about trying to pull off a “flip” or a “barrel roll,” ending with “nose down and call it a night.”
Russell worked for Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, for more than three years. Before that, he and his wife ran their own bakery for three years, Reuters reported.
“We don’t know how” he was able to fly the plane, Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck told NBC. “We don’t know how he learned to do that.”
Beck told The Seattle Times that Russell “pulled off some incredible maneuvers.”
Russell joked to air traffic controllers that he could fly the plane because he had played so many video games.
He also asked if controllers thought Alaska Air would make him a pilot if he could land the plane. One responded, “I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off.”
Russell responded: “Yeah, riiight.”
Russell was a well-liked worker and known as a quiet guy, according to a colleague, The Seattle Times reported.
A video posted to YouTube appears to have been made by Russell about his job. “I lift a lot of bags,” he says on the video. “Like, a lot of bags, sooo many bags.” But he also included stunning scenes from his several trips.
“It evens out in the end,” he concluded.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.