Analysis: Horizon Dash-8 Q400 stolen from airport and crashed
Over the few days, media has been flooded with multiple hundreds of reports about an aircraft that was stolen from an airport and dangerously flown, but what actually happened?
Now that information is clearer, we can get a full understanding on what occurred during the incident.
Heading back to beginning, a Horizon Air de Havilland Dash 8 Q400 became airborne without gaining permission from air traffic control in the area on the 10th of August, 2018 Seattle time. The aircraft, registered N449QX, took off from Seattle’s 16C with no call sign whatsoever and no passengers or crew onboard.
With air traffic control not having any luck getting appropriate communications and information, two F-15 Fighters were scrambled to intercept the aircraft. The fighters were speedy too, generating two sonic booms over the area.
The person in control of the aircraft was 29 year-old Richard Russell, who was a ground employee for Horizon Air. The airline released in a statement that Richard had no previous flying experience, citing that even if he had flown a small aircraft like a Cessna, it’s completely different to flying a commercial aircraft.
During the times where Richard did communicate to air traffic control, he stated that he had played some video games to get an idea but this still doesn’t provide the amount of knowledge to perform what he did.
Various observers on the ground filmed the ordeal in horror as the aircraft performed loops, dives and high-speed passes. The F-15s also added to the confusion, with some members of the public fearing another set of 9/11 attacks.
The following video outlines the observations:
A photo of the aircraft in an inverted state:
ATC remained calm and professional once they had established the fact that the aircraft was being controlled by someone of ill-intent. Conversations were ongoing and plans were put in place to minimize danger on the ground and in the air.
Even though Richard was given the option to land at a nearby airport, he stated that he never intended to land:
“I wasn’t really planning on landing it.” – Richard to ATC
After describing his experience in the air and subtly saying goodbye, Richard and the aircraft went down in a forest at Ketron Island. It is not understood whether it was forced down or the engines of the aircraft did fail as suggested by Richard.
The full ATC communications can be heard in the following videos:
Since the crash, the FBI has taken over the investigation, working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to determine the why and how of the crash.
Media and ground observers originally speculated that one of the F-15s shot the aircraft down with one of its AIM-21 or AIM-9 weapons loaded at the time. This was later confirmed as false by the North American American Aerospace Defense Command.
The FBI states that dozens of people are at the crash site working to collect evidence. So far, the known position of the aircraft before it was taken was that it was in maintenance configuration and was not in scheduled passenger service.
Terrorism has been ruled out and the accident has since been determined as an act of suicide. The FBI and NTSB have sourced the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and will use these to uncover any other transmissions that were not passed on to air traffic control.
NTSB regional chief Debra Eckrote described the crash site to media on August the 11th:
“It is highly fragmented. The wings are off. The fuselage is… upside down. Last night there was a fire, so they weren’t able to identify everything.The terrain is thick underbrush… and heavily wooded.”
Human remains of a single person were located at the crash site.
These unfortunate events are a massive eye opener to the world of mental health. Not only do they outline the effects it can have on a person, it unlocks possible safety flaws/concerns in the aviation industry.
As mechanics and pilots are pushed, so are their minds. Not everything will be identified as to what led Richard to this tragic incident but whatever is found, will likely be used to facilitate better mental awareness and training for everyone in the industry. After all, mental health is a major player in previous aircraft related accidents such as the German Wings flight that was forced down by one of it’s pilots.
Incredible amounts of money and research has been poured into aircraft safety when operated by the hands of trained pilots but has enough been poured into the research, prevention and help of those that need it?
It’s important to look out for yourself as well as others. In today’s world where social media and media dominates our minds, it’s important to constantly monitor each other as that’s how we avoid horrific incidents like these.
So far, we understand that Richards actions were not of terrorism, but those of mental issues. Perhaps if he had someone to talk to visit, this accident could have been avoided.
What do you think?