The Tragic Story of “Sky King” Richard Russell

In 2018, Richard Russell made news headlines for stealing and subsequently crashing a 76-seat passenger plane straight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. On August 10, 2018 at 2:36 p.m., ground service agent Richard Russell arrived at Seattle-Tacoma Airport for his scheduled shift of towing planes and cargo for Horizon Air. At 7:19 p.m., he climbed inside Horizon Air Q400 aircraft #N449QX. Being in the cockpit was nothing new for Russell, who had spent the past 3½ years towing planes around the airport and knew how to operate the plane’s auxiliary power unit and maneuver aircraft on land. That evening, however, he decided to fly. At 7:33 p.m., he took off from the airport, and for the next 1 hour and 13 minutes Russell — who had no formal flight training — flew around the Seattle area, visiting Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. After a successful barrel roll, Russell refused to land the plane. At 8:46 p.m., he crashed the plane on Ketron Island in Puget sound. Russell, at 28 years old, was dead. In the aftermath, it was determined that his flying skills, such as they were, came from playing video games. Russell’s death was ruled a suicide after the medical examiner noted that “there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the death was intentional.” Russell made several statements during the flight that suggested his intention to crash, including "I'm gonna try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good, then I'm just gonna nose down and call it a night.” Although the FBI investigation did not find evidence that Russell was suicidal prior to his flight, he hinted at mental health struggles while in the air: “Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”