Air traffic controller applauded for being "calm, prudent, and mature" in dealing with suicidal Seattle hijacker
The controller kept in contact with Richard Russell, a horizon Air employee, who hijacked a 76-seater plane on Friday and crashed it later
An air traffic controller drew praise from authorities for striking up a rapport with a baggage handler who hijacked an empty Alaska Airlines and later crashed to his death, helping avoid mass casualties by calming the situation. Twenty nine-year-old Richard Russell, a Horizon Air employee, took off on a 76-seater plane Friday night after hijacking it from the maintenance area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Throughout the ordeal, Russell stayed in contact with the air traffic controller, who calmly spoke and tried to reason with him before he crashed the aircraft near Ketron Island and burst into flames.
The controller, who remains anonymous, is heard to be completely collected while talking to the suicidal hijacker in the recorded audio of the exchange. Russell ultimately apologized to his family for what he was about to do and told the controller he "didn't want to hurt anyone."
"No, I'm not taking you to any jets. I'm actually keeping you away from aircraft that are trying to land at Sea-Tac," the controller said at one point during the conversation. "We're just trying to find a place for you to land safely."
The hijacker is then heard joking about the consequences he would face due to his actions, but the controller told him not to worry about being thrown in jail, reported Daily Mail. On Saturday, both the controller and the Federal Aviation Administration employees that handled the incident were applauded by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
"We especially acknowledge the contributions of the controller who worked this aircraft and communicated with the individual at the controls. This controller works at Seattle Terminal Radar Approach Control, an FAA facility located in Burien, Wash., just west of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
"The recordings of the incident display his exceptional professionalism and his calm and poised dedication to the task at hand that is a hallmark of our air traffic controller workforce nationwide."
In a conversation with Seattle Times, a former FAA official said that the controller used a "calm, prudent and mature voice to help settle down the individual" and devised a quick plan to help reduce the risk to civilian populations around who could have been affected.
Having said that, Russell's family are "stunned and heartbroken" over the incident. In a family statement read out by friends at a news conference, Russell was described as a "faithful husband" to his wife and a "good friend who was loved by everyone."
"It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man," the statement read, referring to Russell's nickname.
His death was a complete shock, the family said, adding: "We are devastated by these events and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now."
"As the voice recordings show, Beebo's intent was not to harm anyone and he was right in saying that there are so many people who love him."