News World FBI locate ‘black box’ recorder after rogue pilot crash
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FBI locate ‘black box’ recorder after rogue pilot crash

Richard Russell took an Alaska Airlines plane for a joy ride before crashing. Photos: Getty
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The FBI has located the black box flight recorder from the Horizon Air crash as the family of a suicidal airline worker who stole the plane issued a statement saying they are “stunned and heartbroken” by his death.

“This is a complete shock to us,” the family said. “We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now. Without him, we would be hopeless.”

The 29-year-old man, identified on Sunday as Richard Russell, took off in the Horizon Air turbo Bombardier Q400 turboprop on Friday night from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

US authorities are investigating how he managed to steal an empty airliner from Seattle’s airport, sparking a massive security alert before diving the plane into a sparsely inhabited coastal island.

Despite having no pilot licence, Mr Russell was able to fly for about an hour shadowed by a pair of F-15 fighter planes while chatting amiably with air traffic controllers in between barrel rolls and loop-the-loops before deliberately crashing into Ketron Island in Puget Sound, about 40 kilometres to the southwest of Seattle.

In partial recordings of his conversations with air traffic controllers, the man said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him and described himself as a “broken guy”.

“Got a few screws loose, I guess,” he is heard saying in the recording. “Never really knew it until now.”

The ease with which he stole the plane has raised troubling questions about airfield security, with speculation in US media that a terrorist might easily have done the same thing and taken out a big swathe of Seattle.

Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) taskforces are all investigating the bizarre incident.

“Until the FBI has the opportunity to get better background on the person, find out what motive they had, it’s a little too early to make a determination on what the objective was,” the NTSB’s western Pacific region chief, Debra Eckrote, said.

“He’s ground support so they have access to aircraft,” she said of the man.

Among the questions to be answered is how the employee was able to taxi the plane on a runway and take off without authorisation.

Suicide pilot Richard Russell: “A few screws loose”. Photo: Social media

Two F-15 fighter jets took to the air from their base in Portland, Oregon, and were on the scene within minutes as panic about the pilot’s motive and possible intentions spread through the region.

The warplanes inadvertently hiked fears when they broke the sound barrier while racing at low altitude to tail the rogue airliner, generating a pair of sonic booms widely mistaken for the sound of explosions.

The jets were armed and authorised to unleash their missiles but did not open fire, North American Aerospace Defence Command spokesman Cameron Hillier said.

Instead, the F-15 pilots tried to shepherd the plane to the west, away from populated areas. No one was hurt on the ground, authorities said.

Fire crews were working to extinguish a massive post-crash fire in the pine forest on Ketron Island. No one was injured on the ground, authorities said.

A fiery glow in the night sky marks the spot where the jetliner plunged to its doom.

“We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened,” said Brad Tilden, chief executive of Alaska Air Group, the corporate parent of Horizon.

Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that President Donald Trump is “monitoring the situation”.

-with wires

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