Man who stole plane was amusing, hardworking, former colleague recalls

No passengers were onboard and normal operations have resumed at the airfield

Alaska Airlines said the plane was in a "maintenance position" when it was stolen and not scheduled for a passenger flight.

A two-acre fire burns early Saturday on the Puget Sound island where the plane crashed.

"A joyride gone terribly wrong", Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said during a news conference in Steilacoom, which is about 3 miles from the island. No structures on the ground were damaged, Alaska Airlines said.

Airline and airport officials would not say during a briefing to reporters Saturday exactly when airport staff determined the plane was in the process of being stolen.

"Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane". It appeared the ground worker used a tow vehicle to rotate the plane 180 degrees on the tarmac before climbing into the cockpit, taxiing to a runway and taking off, Alaska executives said.

"No security violations were committed", said Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden.

29-year-old Richard Russell, a ramp agent for Horizon Air, stole one of the companies aircraft and took it for a joy ride.

We caught up with pilot and aviation mechanic Alex Furois. He said the military planes were not involved in the crash.

The jets were armed but did not fire on the aircraft, Air Force Capt. Cameron Hillier, a NORAD spokesman, told The Washington Post on Saturday. The aircraft's unpredictable flight pattern terrified onlookers, who got photo and video footage of the plane's ill-fated excursion.

Sheriff's officials say the employee was "suicidal" and there is no connection to terrorism. They referenced the recordings of him talking to air traffic controllers and said and that it's clear Russell, who went by the nickname "Beebo", didn't intend to harm anyone and "he was right in saying that there are so many people who loved him".

At one point, he asked for the coordinates of the mother orca who has been carrying the body of her dead baby for more than two weeks in grief.

"You know, the mama orca with the baby". "I don't want to". I think I might mess something up there too.

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"I wouldn't want to do that".

The air traffic controller can also be heard trying to talk him into landing.

"Yeah, not quite ready to bring it down just yet, but holy smokes, I got to stop looking at the fuel because it's going down quick", say the man.

The mechanic, referred to as "Rich", said that he wanted to do "a barrel roll, and if that goes good.nose down and call it a night". "I hope they can make it through this".

Richard Russell: "Nah, I mean I don't need that much help".

One witness filmed the plane doing a large loop-the-loop, which they first thought was part of an air show rehearsal. "Never really knew it, until now", he added.

The last known transmission was from about 8:47 p.m., the Times reported.

Read: 'Keep the plane right over the water. "Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed", the airport wrote.

The FBI is investigating the freakish incident in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and local law enforcement.

The married airport employee, 29, "hijacked" the Alaska Airlines plane before performing stunts in the sky as he was tailed by fighter jets today.

"It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie", King told the Times.

Southers, the aviation security expert, said the man could have caused mass destruction.

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