Man Who Stole Alaska Airlines Plane Said He Was ‘Just a Broken Guy’
A ground worker stole an Alaska Airlines plane from Washington’s Sea-Tac airport on Friday.
He flew erratically for some time while, according to the Associated Press, being tailed by military aircraft. The plane, a turbo-propeller Bombardier Q400 operated by Alaska Air Group subsidiary of Horizon Air, then crashed into Ketron Island, a small inland island roughly 30 miles south near Tacoma, Wash. There were reportedly no passengers on the plane.
Local authorities described the 29-year-old hijacker as suicidal, the AP reported. Jimmy Thomson, deputy editor of Canadian investigative news outlet The Narwhal, has compiled and transcribed portions of the air-traffic recording of the incident, and they provide a haunting glimpse into the moments before the plane crash.
The hijacker is referred to in the recordings as “Rich.” In one key passage, “Rich” – sounding notably composed – seemed to confirm his suicidal mindset, saying: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. 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.”
At other points “Rich” sounds more obviously agitated. At one point he seems to be threatening harm, telling an air traffic controller that “people’s lives are at stake here.” There are also significant signs of premeditation, with the thief at one point saying “I wasn’t really planning on landing” the plane.
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“Rich” also provides vague hints toward economic and racial grievances. At one point he references “minimum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that.” At another point he jokingly says he won’t be able to get a job after the incident because “I’m a white guy.”
Most striking, though, is the suspect’s repeated expressions of wonder at the landscape he is flying through, including Mount Rainier and the Olympic range. At one point he says he had been hoping for a “moment of serenity.” He also asks for the coordinates of an orca that had been in the news.
Through all of this, air traffic controllers and other professionals gently worked to guide “Rich” to a safe landing, directing him to nearby runways. He expresses confidence in his handling of the plane, citing experience with video games. But he repeatedly refuses to land the plane, and returns multiple times to the idea of doing a barrel roll in the passenger plane. Video has surfaced appearing to show the hijacker successfully executing the maneuver, some time before his fatal crash.
The dramatic incident punctuates a stark rise in suicides in the United States. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).