The Campfire

The tragic, yet legendary flight of Richard Russell

Two weeks ago, Richard Russell tragically died after stealing a commercial airliner; crashing it into a desolate area in Washington state. The story is far more profound, however; than a standard theft.

By Neil Harrington

August 10, 2018, began like any other day for Horizon Air employee Richard Russell. Working as a ground service agent, Russell’s daily duties included loading bags, scraping ice off of Commercial airliners, and performing routine checks before daily flights — which was no different on the final day of his life.

Richard Russell was just your average Joe, described as “warm” and “generous” man. He loved puppies, was happily married and was active in the local Seattle community as a mentor/leader of a Christian youth ministry called YoungLife —  until he (tragically) went legend.

Richard Russell

Photo Credit: Seattle Times

Instead of heading home after his shift ended, Russell chose to stay on the clock a bit longer, logging in a bit of overtime.

For reasons unknown, Russell decided to go for a joy-ride, stealing a Horizon Air Q400, 76-passenger Commercial jet — located at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Even more mysterious than his motives is how Russell was able to get the plane in the air without any previous piloting experience.

The Seattle Times, CNN, TIME, and the audio with Air Traffic Control provides us with the bizarre details of the final moments of Russell’s life.

Saying it was a wild ride is the understatement of the year. Thankfully, no one else was hurt, which was not the intent of Russell in the first place.

Russell: I don’t want to hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nothings in my ear.”

It was not a hijacking as some have misreported; no one else was on board. Rather, it was a theft and one for the ages.

So many emotions flowed through my soul while listening to Russell’s audio footage and watching in awe at the raw-video of this unique adventure.

Laughter. Joy. Amazement. Awe. Followed by, sadness and hopelessness, even anger; knowing that Russell meets his doom at the end of this crazy flight.

Richard Russell

Map of Richard Russell’s flight-path. Photo Credit: CNN

Russell: “This is probably like jail time for life, huh? I mean, I would hope it is, for a guy like me.”

I’ll be honest, I found myself laughing at the many jokes and wise-cracks of Russell. For those who know him best, that’s not surprising, who was known as a “jokester,” always making people laugh — as he does at this very moment.

How in the world did Russell get the plane in the air? Well, we have the answer from the man himself.

Russell: “I’ve played some video games before.”

Zero flight experience or even flight simulation scenarios. Russell picked up on how to fly from freaking video games. Incredible.

Air-traffic Controller:  I’m actually keeping you away from aircraft that are trying to land at Sea-Tac.”
Russell: “Oh, OK, yeah, yeah, I don’t want to want to screw with that. I’m glad you’re not … screwing up everyone else’s day on account of me.”
Indeed, any people’s days were ruined on August 10, but it sure made Russell’s day, who was having the time of his life.He was even pushing for a promotion, of sorts.
Russell:  “You think if I land this successfully, Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?
Air-traffic Controller: “I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off.” 
Russell: “Yeah, right!”

What’s lost in the shuffle are the actions of the Air-traffic Controller, who deserves a raise for his heroic acts during this incident. He kept Russell calm, prevented further casualties and damage, and nearly convinced the troubled man to land the aircraft — which wasn’t lost on Russell.

Russell: You’re a very calm, collect voice. 

Meanwhile, Russell wanted none of that “landing the plane” talk, wanting to stay in the Washington-air as long as possible. And that, he did.

Air-traffic Controller: We’re just trying to find a place for you to land safely.”
Russell: “Yeah, not quite ready to bring it down just yet.

What happens next is frightening and quite extraordinary. Russell asks for assistance on pulling off a (seemingly) impossible maneuver with the aircraft.

Russell: “Hey, pilot guy. Can this thing do a back-flip, you think?”

Somehow, Russell is able to execute the barrel-roll like a true pro.

Russell: I’m gonna land it. Like, in a safe kind of manner. I think I’m going to try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes good, I’m just gonna go nose down and call it a night.”

The mood then lowered to more of a somber tone when reality sunk in on Russell.

Russell: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me, and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. I’m just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess, never really knew it until now.”

It appears that Russell either (intentionally) crashed the aircraft into Ketron Island, encountered engine trouble, and/or ran out of fuel before crashing — killing himself in the process.

Thankfully, he avoided hitting any nearby citizens or buildings in the process.

I’m amazed and quite impressed with the fact Russell was able to get the aircraft in the air, fly it manually for over an hour, pull off that crazy spin, and crash into a deserted area.

Russell is described as:

“Always happy, every time we saw him, it was like he had these giant ear-to-ear grins. Myself, my friends, everybody, we’ve been talking to each other and we’re all like, ‘Why?’ I don’t understand.”

We may never know why he did this, but we do know that Russell died the very way he lived; with a massive grin on his face.

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If only he would have landed the aircraft safely. Ah, the bar stories he would have told. Instead, Russell went out on his own terms, with people now telling stories about him.

Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. And you, my friend, are now a legend.

Rest in Peace, Richard Russell.

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