PHOTO: John Waldron
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Man who took Horizon Air plane identified as Richard Russell

Jeremy Kaelin used to work with Richard Russell at Verizon Air in 2016, he tells CNNís Dan Simon. Kaelin says Russellís nickname was ìBeebo.î 

ìAnytime we worked together we had just fun, happy funny, simple, short-minded conversations,î Kaelin said. ìI would say we always had a good time and I would talk to him sometimes in the break room if we happened to have the same break.î 

ìHe was a nice guy, he was definitely one of the harder working people on the ramps, he was always trying to be faster but yet he still worked in a safe manner. He was always great to work with himówe got our flights out on time, if not early most of the time,î he said of Russell 

Russell had a good sense of humor and when Kaelin heard his voice on the ATC audio after the crash he said it was sad. ìIt just hurts to hear someone you know and just hear the pain in their voice.î 

Kaelin says it doesnít surprise him that Russell was able to fly the plane because of some of the requirements for his job.
PHOTO: LinkedIN
Man who took Horizon Air plane identified as Richard Russell Jeremy Kaelin used to work with Richard Russell at Verizon Air in 2016, he tells CNNís Dan Simon. Kaelin says Russellís nickname was ìBeebo.î ìAnytime we worked together we had just fun, happy funny, simple, short-minded conversations,î Kaelin said. ìI would say we always had a good time and I would talk to him sometimes in the break room if we happened to have the same break.î ìHe was a nice guy, he was definitely one of the harder working people on the ramps, he was always trying to be faster but yet he still worked in a safe manner. He was always great to work with himówe got our flights out on time, if not early most of the time,î he said of Russell Russell had a good sense of humor and when Kaelin heard his voice on the ATC audio after the crash he said it was sad. ìIt just hurts to hear someone you know and just hear the pain in their voice.î Kaelin says it doesnít surprise him that Russell was able to fly the plane because of some of the requirements for his job.
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PHOTO: John Waldron
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PHOTO: CNN
CNN will have a live signal of the upcoming Alaska Air News Conference regarding a plane stolen from Seattle's SeaTac airport. The briefing will include comments from Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, Gary Beck, CEO of Horizon Air and Mike Ehl, director of operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
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Man who took Horizon Air plane identified as Richard Russell

Jeremy Kaelin used to work with Richard Russell at Verizon Air in 2016, he tells CNNís Dan Simon. Kaelin says Russellís nickname was ìBeebo.î 

ìAnytime we worked together we had just fun, happy funny, simple, short-minded conversations,î Kaelin said. ìI would say we always had a good time and I would talk to him sometimes in the break room if we happened to have the same break.î 

ìHe was a nice guy, he was definitely one of the harder working people on the ramps, he was always trying to be faster but yet he still worked in a safe manner. He was always great to work with himówe got our flights out on time, if not early most of the time,î he said of Russell 

Russell had a good sense of humor and when Kaelin heard his voice on the ATC audio after the crash he said it was sad. ìIt just hurts to hear someone you know and just hear the pain in their voice.î 

Kaelin says it doesnít surprise him that Russell was able to fly the plane because of some of the requirements for his job.
PHOTO: LinkedIN
Man who took Horizon Air plane identified as Richard Russell Jeremy Kaelin used to work with Richard Russell at Verizon Air in 2016, he tells CNNís Dan Simon. Kaelin says Russellís nickname was ìBeebo.î ìAnytime we worked together we had just fun, happy funny, simple, short-minded conversations,î Kaelin said. ìI would say we always had a good time and I would talk to him sometimes in the break room if we happened to have the same break.î ìHe was a nice guy, he was definitely one of the harder working people on the ramps, he was always trying to be faster but yet he still worked in a safe manner. He was always great to work with himówe got our flights out on time, if not early most of the time,î he said of Russell Russell had a good sense of humor and when Kaelin heard his voice on the ATC audio after the crash he said it was sad. ìIt just hurts to hear someone you know and just hear the pain in their voice.î Kaelin says it doesnít surprise him that Russell was able to fly the plane because of some of the requirements for his job.
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Airline worker's family releases statement
title: Horizon Air Incident Aug 10, 2018 duration: 00:00:44 site: Youtube author: null published: Sat Aug 11 2018 01:45:50 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time) intervention: yes description: To download this video, go to:  https://ascorpcomm.sharefile.com/d-s6f392b0abb9453da
PHOTO: Alaska Airlines
title: Horizon Air Incident Aug 10, 2018 duration: 00:00:44 site: Youtube author: null published: Sat Aug 11 2018 01:45:50 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time) intervention: yes description: To download this video, go to: https://ascorpcomm.sharefile.com/d-s6f392b0abb9453da
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https://twitter.com/Kai_AHS/status/1028136941143969798
PHOTO: Kai Simpson / Twitter/@Kai_AHS
https://twitter.com/Kai_AHS/status/1028136941143969798
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Witness: I'm still in shock

Editor’s Note: Les Abend recently retired after 34 years as a Boeing 777 captain for American Airlines. He is a CNN aviation analyst and senior contributor to Flying magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) —  

As a former airline pilot, I was chilled listening to the recorded Air Traffic Control (ATC) transcripts of Richard Russell, the 29-year-old Horizon Air employee who stole an empty Bombardier Q-400 and took it on a flight to nowhere.

Most of us know that the joy ride from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night ended in a fiery crash approximately 40 miles southwest on Ketron Island. The impromptu pilot did not survive.

But how could such an event occur?

First, understand that almost all airline employees have access to aircraft in some capacity. If the employee is ground service-based, he or she has access to the ramp area. Prior to obtaining this access, both the employer and airport administrator obtain a background check. Criminal history, potential ties to terrorist activity and fingerprints are all part of the process. Once the employee is vetted, an airline ID is issued accompanied by a Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge.

The answer to the burning question of whether a test for mental illness is administered would be “no.” Unless the background check produced documentation of treatment for mental illness, the airline would be unaware.

So, what would stop an unqualified employee from operating a sophisticated, turbo-prop regional airliner? Other than co-workers observing the unusual activity, absolutely nothing. There is no protocol to stop an authorized SIDA badged, uniformed employee from accessing an aircraft on the ramp. It’s not unusual activity unless that person’s job description doesn’t ever involve access to an airplane.

And an employee climbing on board in darkness would most likely go unnoticed. Furthermore, most airlines do not lock airplanes because access can only be obtained by security vetted employees through jet bridges and coded door ramp access.

A clearance from air traffic control (ATC) to start the plane’s engines is not required. Nor is there a necessity to have assistance from a ground crew if the airplane is parked away from the gate and doesn’t require a pushback. An assumption would be made that either a flight crew or two mechanics were in the cockpit.

And apparently this employee found a clear path to taxi onto one of the runways at SeaTac where an unimpeded takeoff could occur without a clearance from ATC. The only risk was a collision with another aircraft that was adhering to the standard protocols.

Over the course of my career, I’ve listened to hyperbole from non-pilots expressing a fantasy of flying an airliner and performing aerobatic stunts. The discussions included a wink and a nod, with not one of those individuals offering even a hint of truly acting out such a scheme. Aside from the legal jeopardy, the fear of death seems to dissuade most folks.

In that regard, the Horizon Air employee would have been in a frame of mind that most of us couldn’t fathom. Even with the qualifications I’ve obtained as an airline pilot, I couldn’t imagine unauthorized use of my company’s airplanes, let alone hopping in a jet that was never part of my experience. Granted, my colleagues are familiar with the axiom, “If you can start it, you can fly it,” but none of us would consider such foolishness without the proper training.

That’s why this event is so incredibly disturbing. It’s obvious that Russell had more than basic knowledge of not only flying airplanes, but specifically of the Q-400. Not only did he manage to take off, but he also performed basic aerobatic maneuvers.

Where did he obtain such knowledge? It’s pure speculation at this point, but the possibility that he gained experience on a desktop simulator would make the scenario plausible. During the recorded transcript, he made quick reference to having played “video games.”

Are you scoffing at the notion? Well, it just so happens that a very passionate group of hobbyists partake in “fake airplane” flying. The sophistication of the simulation is only restricted by the amount of money one is willing to spend. The computer programs offer virtual experiences in everything from Piper Cubs to Boeing 777s.

The simulator itself can involve just a desktop screen and a mouse or a full-blown stick and rudder device. In addition, a subscription can be obtained from various online companies that provide air traffic controllers, interacting in real time as though the simulated flight was an actual trip.

I attended a fake airplane convention in Hartford, Connecticut, with a friend of mine that participates via his own sophisticated desktop simulator. It was impressive to witness the level of professionalism that these hobbyists maintained. Interestingly enough, I have given my friend an opportunity to fly all three of the actual small airplanes I have owned over a period of time, and he has performed above average just on the basis of his fake airplane experience. That being said, with my friend and most sane people, that’s where the fantasy ends.

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Judging by the Horizon Air employee’s unorthodox communication with ATC, it would seem that he wasn’t familiar with many aspects of the US airspace environment. He certainly had trepidations about landing the airplane. He was familiar enough with his fuel status to know that the airplane couldn’t remain airborne for very long. Based on my knowledge of the Q-400, I estimate he had less than an hour of fuel in the tanks.

It is possible that one engine flamed out first, and because Russell didn’t have the training to manage the asymmetric thrust situation, the airplane became uncontrollable and crashed into the trees. Of course, it is also likely that the employee decided to accelerate his demise by pushing the nose into the terrain.

So should security procedures change? Perhaps, but not significantly.

I have a simple solution: Lock the cockpit door at all times and give access to only authorized personnel through a key and/or door code. For most airlines, this procedure can be easily implemented because the systems already exist.

In any case, this is a joy ride that will be thoroughly investigated from many angles. As a retired professional, I ask that you please try this at home on your desktop simulator – and not in an actual airplane.