Richard Russell took off on a stolen plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night, flew around for about an hour with military jets pursuing him and overthrew the 76-seat Horizon Air plane in a wooded island, authorities said.  Russell was the only person on board and did not survive, said the Sheriff Department of Pierce County.
"This is a complete shock to us," the family said in a statement on Saturday night. "We are shaken by these events and Jesus is truly the only one who holds this family together."
Richard Russell worked at Horizon Air for many years
Russell had worked as a ground traffic agent at Horizon Air for three and a half years. His responsibilities included directing aircraft to take off and take off aircraft, handling luggage, and cleaning and thawing aircraft.
Richard Russell or "Beebo," as some called him, was "a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend," his family said.
The 29-year-old was "friendly and gentle to every person he met," his family said in a statement Saturday night.
Officials do not believe that Russell one Had pilot's license, and they do not know how he knew to fly the plane. Jeremy Kaelin said he worked with Russell in 2016 and remembered "happy, funny" conversations with him in the break room.
"He was a nice guy," Kaelin said. "He was definitely one of the harder workers on the ramps."
F-15s did not crash the plane.
Russell had a shift on Friday when he took an airplane A maintenance area of Seattle-Tacoma Airport, said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group, which owns Horizon Air.
He used a vehicle known as a pushback tractor to move the empty 76-seater Horizon Air turboprop aircraft without clearance at 19:32.
Russell flew for about an hour, talking to them regularly Air traffic controllers and took turn turns and even aerobatic maneuvers when he was followed by two armed F-15 jets, officials said.
A video of a witness on the ground shows the plane looping in one spot, turning the plane upside down and then only a few feet above water.
The plane eventually sparsely populated Ketron Island, launching a fire in the woods and killing Russell. No one outside the plane was injured, officials said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the authorities said the F-15 had not brought the plane down.
Gaps in Flight Safety
While the accident killed only Russell, the outrageous stealing of a commercial airline from a large US airport has shown a gap in air safety.
The FBI said it does not consider the incident as terrorist, as authorities are trying to figure out how a security scare of this magnitude has occurred at the airport.
Investigators tried on Saturday to fetch the flight recorder and cockpit of the aircraft voice recorder
"He could have spoken to himself in the cockpit," so that the voice recorder can provide additional information that is not on the radio were recorded, said Debra Eckrote, regional director of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Experts say the crash has revealed alarming loopholes in airport security and is likely to trigger an important security measure in the surveillance industry.
"This will be an important learning event for the industry," said CNN aviation analyst Justin Green. "That's a really big deal."
Russell managed to steal a 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop himself from a maintenance area. According to Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, he was in uniform, had good credentials, and had permission to be in safe aircraft areas.
"You are a member of the credentials, you are there to work on the aircraft … This is the aviation in America, the doors of the planes are not slotted like a car, there is no ignition key like a car In aviation in America, we secure the airfield, "Tilden told reporters on Saturday.
He seemed to have broken the protocol several times. He could not have climbed the plane alone and gone unnoticed. He also moved the plane himself while the protocol called for two people to tow an airplane.
"That he was out there himself, carrying the plane himself … and then shoving the tracker out of the way, so he I could get on the plane and move – the fact that all this happened without anyone On the ground service crew, that's just phenomenal for me, "said CNN analyst and former FAA security inspector David Soucie.
CNN's Dan Simon, Jason Hanna, Mark LeBien and Ray Sanchez have contributed to this report.