Richard Russell, an employee of Horizon Air seized a company plane on Friday night and took off from Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle and crashed on a small island.
The authorities believe he died when the plane crashed.
Authorities said on Saturday that the 29-year-old had been working for Horizon Air for three and a half years and had the necessary permissions to access the plane.
The man, who did not seem to hold a pilot’s license, used a tug to move the plane and then board. Authorities remain puzzled by its ability to start the engine – an operation that requires the engagement of a series of buttons and levers.
“We do not know how he learned to do that,” said Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon Air.
The man also caused surprise by performing acrobatic tricks with the plane before his crash.
No one else was on board as the aircraft was only in “maintenance position” on the tarmac.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Ed Troyer, said he was suicidal so there is no question of terrorism.
Horizon Air’s Chief Operating Officer, Constance von Muehlen, said “wholeheartedly” with the employee’s family, as well as with all the airline’s staff, a subsidiary from Alaska Airlines.
Witnesses reported seeing the aircraft, a Q400 that can carry up to 76 passengers, pursued by military planes near the airport, before it crashed on Ketron Island in the south. west of Tacoma.
Alaska Airlines says no infrastructure has been damaged on the ground. The crash nevertheless caused a fire in a densely wooded area. Videos show flames rising from the forest on this sparsely populated island and only accessible by ferry.
While still in the air, the man spoke with the air traffic controllers who were trying to convince him to land.
“There is a track just to your right in about a mile,” said one of them.
“Oh man! These guys will probably hurt me if I try to land there, he replied. It’s probably worth jail for life, eh? ”
“There are a lot of people who care about me. It will disappoint them to learn that I just did that, he later added. (I am) a broken man, I have one less box, I guess. ”
Authorities first identified him as a mechanic, but eventually he would be an officer who would be in charge of flying the planes and de-icing the aircraft in the winter.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Saturday morning that the president is “watching the situation.” Donald Trump is at his New Jersey Golf Club.
According to transportation safety expert Erroll Southers, this mishap highlights one of the most serious dangers facing commercial aviation: employees who are wreaking havoc.
“We have an employee here who was checked to give him access to the device and had a large enough skill set to take off with this device,” said the former FBI agent.
“If he had the ability to do pirouettes with a plane like that, he certainly had the ability to hit a building and kill people on the ground,” he says.