Associations Assist With Investigation After Seattle Hijacking

After an airline employee who wasn’t a pilot took off in an empty passenger plane and crashed it into an island, associations are supporting the airport and law enforcement agencies investigating the bizarre incident.

The hijacking of a passenger plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by an airline employee on Friday was, by all accounts, almost unprecedented. And associations are offering their assistance as officials at the airport—along with the FBI and Alaska Airlines, which owned the Horizon Air 76-seater—try to make sense of the incident.

The biggest surprise may have been that Richard Russell, the man who stole the plane and died in the crash, was a member of the ground crew at Sea-Tac, not a pilot. While his job gave him indirect experience with the aircraft, it did not include flying the plane. National Association of Flight Instructors President Rick Todd told The New York Times that Russell’s explanation to an air traffic controller that he figured out how to fly the aircraft based on his use of videogame simulations was unexpected.

“It’s highly improbable, but not impossible, that he never had a lick of flying except other than in a virtual world,” Todd said.

Meanwhile, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association praised the controller who spoke to Russell as he was in the air doing acrobatic maneuvers before he crashed the plane.  “The recordings of the incident display [the controller’s] exceptional professionalism and his calm and poised dedication to the task at hand that is a hallmark of our air traffic controller workforce nationwide,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in comments to USA Today.

Other organizations assisting the Port of Seattle with the investigation, according to the local news site The Stranger, include the American Association of Airport Executives and Airports Council International. Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said at a press conference that Russell had passed all necessary background checks and that the airport had been working on improving its security screenings.

“I think this is really, truly a one-in-a-million experience,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it.”

An example of the Horizon Air q400 airplane like the one involved in Friday's incident. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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