The family members of the man who stole an airplane and took it on a joy ride that cost him his life described him as “warm and compassionate” and said they are “stunned and heartbroken” over his death.
In a statement released late Saturday, the family of Richard Russell, a ground service agent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, nicknamed “Beebo,” called him”a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.”
On Friday night, the 29-year-old Sumner, Wash., man hijacked a 76-seat Q400 aircraft belonging to Alaska Airlines’ regional carrier Horizon Air and performed aerial acrobatics before crashing into the nearby Ketron Island, officials said.
“This is a complete shock to us,” the family said. “We are devastated by these events.”
Authorities classified Russell as a “suicidal male.” While in the air, he joked for nearly 20-minutes with an air traffic control agent, but also called himself “just a broken guy” who was likely disappointing the many people who care about him.
“As the voice recordings show, Beebo’s intent was not to harm anyone,” the family said. “He was right in saying that there are so many people who have loved him.”
“A childhood friend remarked that Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to each person he met,” the statement read.
Coaches at Wasilla High School, which Russell attended, described him as an outgoing star athlete and “a great kid,”
“Everybody wanted to be around Beebo,” track and field coach Gary Howell told the Anchorage Daily News. “He had that energy, that vibrance. He was that kid you high-five in the hallway even if you don’t know him.”
Russell graduated high school in 2008 after a stellar career as a running back, wrestler and thrower. In his senior year, he placed fifth in the discuss 2008 ASAA/Alaska State Track and Field Championships, was fourth at 215 pounds at the state wrestling tournament and ran six touchdowns as a fullback on the school’s football team.
After graduation, he went on to play at least one season of football at Valley City State University in North Dakota.
His former coach said there’s still a weight belt in the Wasilla High gym that says “Beebo” — adding he was in “total shock” over the incident.
“The kid I knew wouldn’t do that,” he said. “There’s just no explanation.”
With Post wires