A BORED baggage handler hijacked a passenger plane after simply jumping into the cockpit and flicking a switch.
The shocking revelation comes as experts fear Richard Russell learned his flying skills on an over-the-counter flight simulator.
Facebook Richard Russell, 29, stole an plane in Seattle before crashing it into an island
The 29-year-old, stole the Alaska Airlines plane before taking it for a stunt-filled joy ride as he was pursued by fighter jets above Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
Now officials have revealed just how easy it was for the married Horizon Air employee to get off the ground for his 90-minute “suicidal” flight.
“They don’t necessarily use a key so there’s a switch that they use to start the aircraft,”disclosed National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Debra Eckrote.
The FBI is investigating how the thief was able steal the plane, which was parked at a maintenance area, and take off without clearance from air traffic controllers.
Facebook Russell ‘hijacked’ the Alaska Airlines plane before taking it for a four-hour joyride
He performed several stunts before crashing to the ground in a fireball
The ‘ground service agent’ worked at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with an identification card which allowed him access to be near planes in secure areas.
“He was able to take the aircraft and get it airborne and we do know he was in communication with air traffic control,” said Eckrote.
Eckrote said she believes the man had a basic understanding of how to power up a plane because of his background as an airline employee.
Horizon officials said Saturday the thief did not have a pilot’s license and used a push-back tractor to spin the plane 180 degrees where it was parked.
Alamy The mechanic ‘hijacked’ a Horizon Air Q400, pictured, before performing loops in the air
The plane did several stunts before crashing on Ketron Island
Aviation attorney Mark Dombroff told Fox News on Saturday that it was amazing Russell had managed to stay in the air for so long.
“The fact that he was aloft for almost 90 minutes without the airplane crashing, the fact that he was able to take off the airplane in the first instance, would suggest that he had a lot of familiarity with the aircraft controls and capabilities,” Dombroff said.
“He may well have had a lot of experience flying a computer-based flight simulator, one you can buy in a computer store.”
Retired operational supervisor for Horizon Air Rick Christenson added: “He did some aerobatics in the airplane that I was shocked to see.
Friend of Seattle airplane thief ‘s family read s out a statement saying how ‘shocked and devastated’ they are at the loss of Richard Russell after he ‘hijacked’ an Alaska Airlines jet
Facebook Russell, pictured with wife Hannah, told air traffic controllers he was a ‘broken man’ in a chilling final conversation
“And for him to do that I would think that he either played in a simulator or what. It looked pretty amazing to me. Maybe it was luck, I don’t know.”
Harrowing audio revealed the pilot joking with the controllers who begged him to land the 76-seater plane before it nosedived and burst into a fireball 25 miles from takeoff.
He also told them he was a “broken man” and apologised to the air traffic controller, saying: “I hope this doesn’t ruin your day.”
At one point, he said: “Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?”
Astonishing video showed the plane doing large loops and other dangerous manoeuvres.
The passenger plane took off without permission and later crashed after the man performed stunts in the air
AP:Associated Press Officers on patrol at the airport after Saturday’s hijacking
The deadly excitement was clearly far removed from Russell’s daily grind as a seemingly bored baggage handler.
A video he posted on YouTube gave an insight into his work for Horizon Airlines which mainly involved loading and unloading luggage for around £10 an hour.
“Hi, I’m Beebo Russell and I’m a grounds service agent. That means, I lift a lot of bags. Like, a lot of bags. So many bags,” he says on the clip. “Look at all them bags. Ooh, a purple one.”
The second half of the two-minute video is devoted to Russell’s travels, featuring photos and videos from his different trips around the world.
Reuters Air Alaska maintenance workers walk through the the terminal
Reuters Air Alaska passengers wait in the terminal following an incident
During the hijacking Russell, known as “Rich”, told controllers he wanted to do “a barrel roll, and if that goes good… nose down and call it a night”.
He added: “I wouldn’t know how to land – I wasn’t really planning on landing it.”
Russell, who dreamed of joining the military, then said that he had thrown up and that he felt “dizzy”, adding: “I’m sorry about this, I hope it doesn’t ruin your day.
“Man, the sights went by so fast. I was thinking, like, I’m going to have this moment of serenity, take in all the sights. There’s a lot of pretty stuff, but they’re pretty in a different context.”
Full Audio of plane ‘hijacker’ calmly reveals why he stole jet in harrowing final call before crashing into island
Last night his family said they were “devastated” in a short statement. It read: “This is a complete shock to us.
“We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now.”
It added Russell was a “faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.”
Russell, who ran a bakery with his wife Hannah until it shut down in 2015, crashed on Ketron Island, 30 miles south west of Seattle, at 8pm local time.
He met Hannah in 2010 when they were both in school and married her one year later, according to one of his blog posts.
Officials issue statements on the airport worker who stole plane before crashing on to island after being followed by fighter jets in Seattle
Reuters The plane is then seen appearing to head towards the ground They ran Hannah Marie’s Bakery in Oregon for three years before moving to Seattle to be closer to their families in 2015.
That is when Russell, who had dreams of joining the military, started working for Horizon Air and travelled to his home state of Alaska when he could.
He was studying for a degree in social sciences from Washington State University and wanted to move his way up to manager level in his company.
In his call to air traffic controllers, the man also described him as having a “few screws lose” but didn’t realise until now.
It is still unclear how Russell, who is not believed to have a pilot’s licence, managed to steal the jet and get it into the air without anyone noticing.
AP Eyewitnesses said they saw the plane being followed by military planes
Fighter jets could be seen ‘minutes later’ to try intercept the plane
The Alaska Airlines flight was seen hovering dangerously close to the sea
Sheriff Paul Pastor confirmed there were no passengers on board the plane and the incident was “not terror-related”, just a “joyride gone terribly wrong”.
Investigator Eckrote said it was “very lucky” the plane avoided nosediving into a populated area.
Eyewitnesses said they saw the aircraft being followed by military planes and videos of the aircraft flying circuits were posted online.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter the crash may have been caused by the man “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills”.
TV images show a fireball caused by the crash on Ketron Island, 30 miles south west of Seattle