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29-year-old ground service agent who stole airplane was credentialed

SEATAC, Wash. — Airline officials say the man who stole a plane from Sea-Tac International Airport Friday night was a 29-year-old ground service agent who was employed by Horizon Air, since February 2015.

The suspect has been identified as Richard Russell, per law enforcement sources.

Airline and law-enforcement officials did not publicly confirm Russell’s identity, but on Saturday morning they did provided some details of his background.

Alaska Air Group said Russell would load and unload cargo and was part of a team that would tow planes to their gates.

Mike Ehl, the Director of Operations at Sea-Tac Airport said Russell was credentialed and allowed to be among planes. He also added that Russell had worked his shift and was likely in uniform when he took the plane.

Just after 7:30 p.m. Friday, Russell stole an empty Horizon Air Q400 turboprop from Sea-Tac and began performing stunts above Puget Sound, officials said. The plane crashed about 90 minutes later on Ketron Island, a small 20 resident island in south Puget Sound.

Officials said Saturday that to their knowledge, Russell wasn't a licensed pilot.

At a news conference in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, officials from Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air said that they are still working closely with authorities as they investigate what happened.

"Safety is our No. 1 goal," said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines. "Last night's event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline."

Authorities said Russell has no ties to terrorism and he "acted alone."

"This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info ... This is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved," the Pierce County Sheriff's Department said on Twitter.

Transcripts from air traffic controllers

In audio recordings posted on Broadcastify, the man can be heard both resisting and seeking help as a controller and others tried to guide the otherwise unoccupied Horizon Air plane to a landing.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department described the man as suicidal but did not elaborate. At times he was apologetic, expressed his desire to fly toward the nearby Olympic Mountains, worried about lightheadedness and expressed shock at his fuel level's rapid decrease.

Here are portions of Friday night's recordings in the order they occurred.

'I have no idea what all that means'

Early in the flight, a controller apparently is giving instructions to the man flying the plane.

Man flying plane: "Yeah, that's all mumbo ju... -- I have no idea what all that means. I wouldn't know how to punch it in. I'm off autopilot."

Keeping away from other aircraft

The man wonders aloud whether a controller is trying to direct the plane toward "jets."

Controller: No, I'm not taking you to any jets. I'm actually keeping you away from aircraft that are trying to land at Sea-Tac.

Man: "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."

How much fuel?

The man starts commenting on fuel.

Man: "I'm down to 2,100. I started at like 30-something."

Controller: "You said you had 2,100 pounds of fuel left?"

Man"Yeah, I don't know what the burn ... burnout is like on takeoff, but yeah, it's burned quite a bit faster than I expected."

Anxiety about Air Force base

Multiple times, a controller tried to persuade the man to land at the Air Force's nearby McChord Field.

Man"Oh man, those guys would rough me up if I tried landing there. I think I might mess something up there, too. I wouldn't want to do that. Oh, they've probably got anti-aircraft!"

Controller"No, they don't have any of that stuff. We're just trying to find a place for you to land safely."

Man: "Yeah, not quite ready to bring it down just yet. But holy smokes, I've got to stop looking at the fuel, because it's going down quick."

'Probably ... jail time for life, huh?'

As a controller tries to relay instructions, the man wonders about jail time.

Controller: If you could, could you start a left-hand turn, and we'll take you down to the southeast, please?

Man"This is probably like jail time for life, huh? I mean, I would hope it is, for a guy like me."

Controller: "Well ... we're not going to worry or think about that. But could you start a left-hand turn, please?

'I don't need that much help'

A controller brings on the radio a pilot who will try to give relay instructions.

Controller"... Apparently a grounds crewman with Horizon, I guess. And uh, right now he's just flying around, and just he needs some help controlling his aircraft."

Man"Nah, I mean, I don't need that much help. I've played some video games before."

Feeling lightheaded

Immediately after that, the man implies he's feeling lightheaded.

Man"I would like to figure out how to get this cabin altitude, like, I know where the box is. I would like to get some, uh, make it pressurized or something, so I'm not so lightheaded."

Controller: "... What's your altitude?"

There is no immediate answer on the recording.

About a minute later, in response to an apparently unrecorded question from a controller about autopilot, the man speaks again.

Man"Yeah, I don't know anything about the autopilot. I'm just kind of hand-flying right now."

'I don't want to hurt no one'

The recording later picks up a snippet in which the man says he doesn't want to hurt anyone.

Man"Damn it ... people's lives are at stake here."

Controller: "Now ... don't say stuff like that."

Man"No, I told you. I don't want to hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nothings in my ear."

Attempts to get him to land

As mentioned, controllers brought a pilot into the conversation to help the man. The pilot appears to be trying to teach him how to use autopilot.

Later, the controller again tries to persuade him to land at McChord.

Controller"If you wanted to land, probably the best bet is that runway just ahead and to your left. Again, that's McChord Field. If you wanted to try, that might be the best way to set up and see if you can land there. Or just like the pilot suggests, another option would be over Puget Sound into the water."

Man"Dang. You talked to McChord yet? 'Cause I don't think I'd be happy with you telling me I could land like that, 'cause I could mess some stuff up."

Controller"... I already talked to them. Just like me, what we want to see is you not get hurt or anybody else get hurt. So like I said, if you want to try to land, that's probably the best place to go."

A 'broken guy' with 'a few screws loose'

At one point, he apologizes and says he is a "broken guy" with "a few screws loose."

Man: "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. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now."

On Saturday, Governor Jay Inslee praised the air traffic controllers for their efforts: "I would also like to acknowledge the air traffic controllers who helped prevent further tragedy in the incident of the stolen Horizon Air plane. They kept calm under intense stress and pressure."

NTSB investigators will test what is left of the plane Saturday and begin interviewing friends and family of the man.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.