Following the theft of an empty plane by an airline worker in the US, a transport security expert has underlined the danger of the “insider threat” to air travel safety.
Richard Russell, 29, was a Horizon Air ground crew member at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, who somehow stole a Q400 turboprop, before performing dangerous loops and crashing into a nearby remote island.
"The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat," former FBI agent and transportation security expert Erroll Southers told Associated Press.
"Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane.
"If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.”
Authorities said it is unclear how Russell attained the skills to pull off the aerial maneuvres, AP reported. An employee of 3.5 years, his usual duties included directing aircraft for takeoff and taxiing, de-icing planes and handling luggage.
"Last night's event is going to push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can ensure this does not happen again at Alaska Air Group or at any other airline," said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon Air.
Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times. pic.twitter.com/Ra4LcIhwfU— bmbdgty (@drbmbdgty) August 11, 2018
According to AP, Russell was heard on audio recordings talking to air traffic controllers.
"There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile," a controller said, trying to persuade him to land the plane.
Russell responded by saying, "Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there".
"This is probably jail time for life, huh?"
Russell later added that he was “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess”.