Q13 FOX Season of Giving

FBI recovers body, data recorder from stolen Horizon Air turboprop plane

SEATTLE  —The FBI has located human remains in the wreckage of the Horizon Air plane that crashed Friday after it was stolen and flown by an airport worker.

"While the focus of our investigation thus far has centered on Richard Russell, 29, of Sumner, Washington, the FBI is awaiting the results of a review by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office," FBI Seattle said in a statement.

Data records and a cockpit voice recorder were also recovered by the FBI. The black boxes will allow investigators to hear what Russell was saying in the cockpit when he wasn't transmitting to air traffic control.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Sunday that Russell had died in the fiery wreckage, but whether the crash was deliberate or accidental could not be answered.

Analysis of those records will begin midweek in Washington D.C. It is unknown when the full analysis will be completed.

Security concerns

"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," Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, told a news conference Saturday.

The plane was a Bombardier Q400, a turboprop that seats 76 people, owned by Horizon Air, part of Alaska Airlines. It had been parked at a cargo and maintenance area for the night after arriving from Victoria, British Columbia, earlier in the day.

Russell, a 3 1/2-year Horizon employee, worked as a ground service agent. His responsibilities included towing and pushing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, de-icing them, and handling baggage.

Authorities said he used a tractor to rotate the plane 180 degrees, positioning it so that he could taxi toward a runway. They said it's not clear whether he had ever taken flight lessons or used flight simulators, or where he gained the skills to take off. The plane didn't require a key, but it did require buttons and switches to be activated in a particular order.

His 75-minute flight during the golden twilight took him south and west, toward the Olympic Mountains. As a flight controller tried to persuade him to land, he wondered aloud about whether he had enough fuel to make it to the Olympics, talked of the beautiful view, and said he had a lot of people who cared about him, apologizing for what he was doing.

He complimented the controller: "You are very calm, collect, poised," he said.

He said flying was a "blast" and that he didn't need much help: "I've played some video games before."

"You think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?" he joked.

He also told the controller he "wasn't really planning on landing" the aircraft, and he described himself as "just a broken guy."

Authorities sent fighter jets to escort him, and the controller repeatedly tried to direct him to runways. But the plane slammed into tiny Ketron Island, a sparsely populated island southwest of Tacoma.

Russell went by "Beebo" on social media. On his Facebook page, which had limited public access, he said he was from Wasilla, Alaska; lived in Sumner, Washington; and was married in 2012.

In a humorous YouTube video he posted last year, he talked about his job and included videos and photos of his travels.

"I lift a lot of bags. Like a lot of bags. So many bags," he said.

Russell's family said in a statement that they were stunned and heartbroken. They said it's clear Russell didn't intend to harm anyone, and "he was right in saying that there are so many people who loved him."