Ground Worker Stole and Crashed an Alaska Airlines Regional Plane Last Night

Last night a ground worker stole a Bombardier Q400 at Seattle Tacoma airport belonging to Alaska Airlines wholly-owned regional carrier Horizon Air. While much of the initial reporting suggested the plane was stolen by a mechanic, it was a 29 year old Horizon Air ground service agent.

The plane (N449QX) was taken from maintenance around 8 p.m. local time in Seattle and crashed on Ketron Island about an hour later. Flights were delayed in the interim.

The FAA requested Department of Defense assistance. NORAD launched two F-15 fighter jets to intercept the aircraft. They were “working to redirect the aircraft out over the Pacific when it crashed.” The federal government emphasizes that they did not fire on the aircraft.

Much of the coverage so far has focused on the aerial acrobatics of the incident.

Here’s air traffic control from during the incident.

  • At 16m40s air traffic control put a Bombardier Q400 pilot on the line to help talk the man through landing the plane.
  • At the 17m50s mark he said “I wasn’t really planning on landing it.”
  • He struggled with cabin pressurization and low fuel, and identified himself as ‘Rich’.
  • He also told air traffic control that he was going to do a barrel roll — and that if it went well he would “nose down and call it a night.”
  • Rich says he has ‘some screws loose’ which he ‘didn’t really know until now.’

Here’s one clip from the audio showing the gallows humor of it all, “do you think if I landed this thing successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?”

Oddly this wasn’t even the first regional aircraft someone tried to steal this summer.

Whatever triggered this event, I hope Rich found peace and his family can somehow find comfort. Thankfully no one else was hurt.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Condolences to the family.
    What are the chances someone takes a video of a passenger plane doing a nosedive in the middle of nowhere? Typically, by the time I get the camera app loaded and ready, remember to hit record instead of photograph, and the subject into focus, either I run out of memory or the phone rings. Usually it’s a call that could have waited.

  2. Rich looked like a pretty good pilot. Pulling out of the loop or Split-S just above the water was airshow stuff. I would think they would shut down the airport and clear the airspace for this incident. He could have tried for a midair collision or crashed into a plane on the ground.

  3. @john Seatac got shut down as soon as they realized the plane wasn’t supposed to be flying, and 2 F-15s got scrambled out of PDX and were on scene within 4-5 minutes.

  4. @John, they pretty much did shut down SeaTac last night. I was on one of dozens of planes lined up on the tarmac. I am glad that no one else was hurt and I also hope this individual found some peace.

  5. Sadly his family is unlikely to collect FF miles as it was a non scheduled flight
    All kidding aside its a miracle something more terrible didn’t occur from event

  6. @Phil and Thomas, That’s what I thought. The SEA ATC recording was confusing. It sounds like they are clearing flights for takeoff and landing while they were also talking pilot of the stolen aircraft.

  7. We landed while this was happening, around 8:30. They lined us and many others up on taxiways. We could not get to gates. I did not see any takeoffs during this time. One of my wife’s friends was on a plane that aborted takeoff and then also sat on tarmac during this time. We got to gate more than 2 hours after landing and I think we we’re lucky.

  8. Am I wrong to think this also illustrates how easy it would be for a ground worker to plant something that could harm a plane with passengers on it? I don’t know how he had access to the plane but are we supposed to be relieved that he only killed himself instead of wanting to take out a plane load or more of people?

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