Authorities in the United States are continuing their investigation after a Horizon Air aircraft crashed after being flown without authorisation from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport late last week.
Richard Russell, a ground service agent from the airline gained access to Bombardier Q400 N449QX (c/n 4410), which was parked at a secure maintenance area within the airport complex, on Friday evening (August 10).
After using a tow tractor to move the aircraft 180 degrees and navigating the airport’s busy taxiways, Russell was airborne for around an hour. The Q400, which was not scheduled for commercial service and had no other passengers onboard, was quickly tracked by Air National Guard F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Portland in neighbouring Oregon sparking a shutdown of the surrounding airspace.
Eyewitnesses on the ground reported that the twin-engine turboprop made a series of dangerous manoeuvres including dramatic loops, before crashing in a wooded area on the remote Ketron Island, approximately 25 miles (40km) to the southwest of the airport. Russell is believed to have died in the crash.
Commenting on the incident, Brad Tilden, CEO of Horizon Air’s parent company, Alaska Air Group said: “We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation.”
Although Russell’s motive for the incident is still unclear, the event has raised questions regarding the security of stationary aircraft parked at airports and the level of access given to some ground personnel within restricted areas.