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FBI investigation concludes: Horizon airplane crash was intentional

Richard "Beebo" Russell stole a Horizon airplane from Sea-Tac Airport on Aug. 10, 2018 and crashed it on Ketron Island. (KIRO 7)

After a three-month investigation, the FBI has completed its investigation into the theft of a Horizon airplane from Sea-Tac Airport last August.

In short, the FBI concludes that Richard Russell, aka “Beebo,” intended to crash the plane. According to a statement from the FBI:

Evidence collected during the course of the investigation indicates Richard Russell, 28, of Sumner, Washington, piloted the aircraft and that the final descent to the ground was intentional. Extensive investigative activity failed to reveal any additional subject(s) involved in the planning or execution of the unauthorized flight.

The FBI is not pursuing charges as it believes there were no co-conspirators to the theft. Post mortem examination lists the cause of death as “multiple traumatic injuries due to airplane crash and the manner of death as suicide,” according to the report.

The FBI report further states:

The FDR data indicated significant sideslip on the airplane during the final minute of flight, but the airplane appears to have remained in control, and the final descent to the ground appears to have been intentional. If the pilot had wanted to avoid impact with the ground he had time and energy to pull the column back, raise the nose, and initiate a climb. Instead, the column remained in a position forward of neutral and moved further forward about six seconds prior to the end of the FDR data, known to investigators as corresponding with the aircraft crash on Ketron Island, in Pierce County, Washington.

On Aug. 10, 2018, Richard “Beebo” Russell stole a Horizon Air Q400 turboprop airplane from Sea-Tac Airport. He took the plane on a cruise around the Puget Sound region, while talking on the radio with the control tower and another pilot who attempted to talk him down. But audio recordings from that radio conversation hinted that Russell did not intend on returning or landing the plane.

The FBI report states that Richard Russell did not make any phone calls while in the cockpit of the airplane. Text messages leading up to the incident also fail to indicate any motive or intention to steal an airplane. There is no evidence terrorism played a role in the theft, either.

The investigation also revealed that Richard Russell was familiar with the checklist to start the airplane. His internet search history also indicated that he sought videos on how to fly an airplane. That is believed to be the extent of his knowledge to operate an airplane.

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