Officials have confirmed that the human remains found inside the airplane stolen from Sea-Tac International Airport as those of the thief, 29-year-old Richard Russell.
FBI investigators found the remains while searching the Horizon Air plane after Russell crashed it on Ketron Island on Aug. 10.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office examined the remains and confirmed they belong to Russell, reported KIRO-7.
The black boxes, or the flight data recorder and components of the cockpit voice recorder, were also recovered and have been sent to National Transportation Safety Board investigators for processing.
Low Pay May Have Been the Problem
A former co-worker of Russell’s, Robert Reeves, told KIRO 7 that Russell loved aviation but was unhappy with his pay.
“He was getting really stressed about the financial situation he was in. He’s worked at Horizon longer than I did, and he still wasn’t making $15 an hour,” Reeves said.
Reeves noted that he left Horizon because he believes workers are overworked and underpaid.
“The reason I left is in February of 2016 they were short staffed and they had me run three planes in the same time,” Reeves said. “That’s just not safe.”
Russell appeared to blame the pay for his stealing the plane at one point in his conversation with air traffic controllers.
“Minimum wage, we’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease some gears with the higher up,” Russell said.
Russell pondered a request by one controller to land but decided against it.
“Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there,” Russell said. “This is probably jail time for life, huh?”
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” he added later. “It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”
Theft Highlights Danger
Experts said that for all the security aimed at preventing people from bringing dangerous weapons and other objects onto airplanes, the real potential danger comes from airport and airline workers.
The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat,” Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The 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.”
The theft has prompted a review of security measures at the Seattle airport.
“This is too big a deal. It’s not going to go away,” said Glen Winn, a former Secret Service agent who teaches at the University of Southern California’s aviation security program. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion, a lot of meetings, a lot of finger-pointing, and it’s going to come down to: How do we stop it?”
Others noted such a theft is very uncommon.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said it’s “truly a one-in-a-million experience,” but added, “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it.”
She said airport officials have been in touch with other airports and airlines to begin to assess procedures and that she expects the federal government will have some ideas about regulation.