Seattle plane crash: First picture of Horizon Air ground agent who downed stolen jet

Richard Russell is presumed dead after the crash in Seattle in Washington state, US

This is the first picture of "suicidal" Horizon Air employee Richard Russell who died after crashing a stolen plane on an island outside Seattle.

The 29-year-old ground service agent was seen doing loops and other air stunts in the 76-seat aircraft after staging an unauthorised take-off.

In distressing audio recordings from inside the cockpit, he can be heard describing himself as a "broken guy" who has "a few screws loose I guess".

He was followed by two military jets before crashing on Ketron Island in Puget Sound, along the northwestern coast of Washington state, US.

He is presumed dead after the incident.

Speaking to the Seattle Times, a retired Horizon Air operational supervisor said Richard was "quiet guy" who was seemingly well-liked by colleagues.

"I feel really bad for Richard and for his family," Rick Christenson added.

"I hope they can make it through this.”

Richard, who was married, said he was hoping for a "moment of serenity" after taking off at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last night.

He apologised to those who care about him while speaking to air traffic controllers, who were attempting to help him land the aircraft safely.

In the audio recordings, which emerged today, he said he planned to attempt "a barrel roll" before nose-diving and "calling it a night".

Footage captured the plane in the air before the smash

He appeared calm at first and even joked about being offered a job as a pilot if he did manage to land the Horizon Air Q400 turboprop safely.

But he said: "I wouldn't know how to land.

"I wasn't really planning on landing it."

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said Richard was "suicidal" and "acted alone", with no passengers onboard the aircraft.

In an earlier Twitter post, it said preliminary information suggested the crash occurred due to "doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills".

It was not a terrorist incident, the sheriff's office added.

In the audio recordings, Richard appeared to become distressed during the conversation after reporting concerns his fuel was running out.

He also told an air traffic controller an engine might have "blown".

"Sorry, my mic came off," he said.

"I threw up a little bit. I'm sorry about this, I hope it doesn't ruin your day."

He said he felt "kind of lightheaded" and "dizzy".

"Man, the sights went by so fast," he said. "I was thinking, like, I'm going to have this moment of serenity, take in all the sights. There's a lot of pretty stuff, but I think they're prettier in a different context."

He made it clear he did not want anyone else to be hurt.

After a male voice on the other end of the radio could be heard saying "he just needs some help controlling his aircraft", Richard replied "Nah".

He added: "I don't need that much help, I've played some video games before. I would like to figure out how to get this cabin altitude...

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said he was "suicidal" and "acted alone"

"I know where the box is... I would like to get some... make it pressurised or something so I'm not so lightheaded."

Richard said he was "gonna land it in a safe kind of manner".

"I think I'm gonna try to do a barrel roll, and if that goes good, I'm just gonna nose down and call it a night," he told the air traffic controller.

He also admitted "there are a lot of people who care about me".

Richard is thought to have worked for Horizon Air for nearly four years - as a ground service agent and as an operations agent.

He had been a member of Horizon’s tow team, according to Rick.

Employees in the team are said to be trained how to use some plane systems - like the hydraulics, radios and auxiliary power unit,

According to a post on his blog around two years ago, Richard was born in Key West, Florida, but moved to Wasilla, Alaska, when he was seven.

In 2010, he met his "incredible" wife Hannah in Oregon. They tied the knot a year later before opening a bakery together.

However, they apparently decided to sell the bakery and move in 2015 "because we were both so far removed from our families".

Richard writes: "Failing to convince Hannah of Alaska’s greatness, we settled on Sumner because of its close proximity to her family.

"I, meanwhile, obtained a job working for Horizon Airlines (partnered with Alaska Airlines) so I’m able to fly to Alaska at my leisure.

"In this season of life we enjoy exploring as much as possible, whether its a day (or so) trip to one of Alaska Airline’s destinations, or visiting a new area of Washington."

He adds: "Once I earn my Bachelors in Social Sciences I will either seek a management position where I’m at now, or possibly join the military as an officer."

His blog features pictures of him and Hannah at various locations.

Following the crash, Brad Tilden, the CEO of Alaska Air Group - of which Horizon Air is a subsidiary - said the company was "incredibly sad".

In a statement at 1.20am today local time, Mr Tilden also said the firm was working to find out everything it possibly can about the incident.

He said: “There was an incident late yesterday involving the unauthorized operation of one of our aircraft that took off from Sea-Tac around 8 p.m.

“We are still gathering facts, but at this point we understand there was only one person aboard, an employee of Horizon Air, who was operating the aircraft.

"I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska are about this incident. Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved."

He added: “We’re working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. We are giving those investigators our full support and cooperation.

“With these investigations underway, our focus will remain on supporting the family of the individual involved, the broader Alaska and Horizon family, and our communities and guests."

It remains unclear how Richard was able to taxi the plane on a runway and take off without authorisation. Video footage on social media showed a large plane flying above the Seattle area with an F-15 following it.

"Okay this insane. A pilot on the plane in front of us just went rogue and took off on an empty plane bypassing orders from the tower," tweeted Ben Schaechter, a passenger on a plane waiting to take off before the incident.

Fire crews were working to put out the fire from the crash on Ketron Island, a sparsely populated island 25 miles southwest of the airport.

The Bombardier Q400 turboprop airplane is designed for shorter-distance flights and can seat 76 passengers, Alaska Air said on its website.

Normal operations have resumed at the airfield.