'Suicidal' airline employee who stole plane from SeaTac Airport had bizarre conversation with air traffic control before crashing

The unidentified “suicidal” airport employee who stole an empty plane before taking off from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) on Friday had a dramatic conversation with air traffic controllers as the incident unfolded.

The unidentified pilot was addressed as “Rich” and “Richard” by air traffic controllers, a live air-traffic control feed showed, as obtained by the Seattle Times. “Rich” sounded upbeat and excited in the conversation while air traffic controllers sounded calm. In one of the snippets of the conversation, “Rich” was heard talking about fuel and how he wanted to “go check out the Olympics.”

The air traffic controllers were heard asking the pilot if he knew his altitude. “Rich” said he was unsure what that meant but said he was on autopilot. The air traffic controllers told him in another snippet that they’re trying to keep him safe because other aircraft land at Sea-Tac.


“Oh okay, yeah, I don’t want to screw with that. I’m glad you’re not screwing up everyone else’s day on account of me,” the airport employee replied.

“Richard” told the air traffic controllers that he had 2,100 pounds of fuel and was surprised by how quickly it “burned out.”

This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me

— 'Rich', the pilot

“Yeah, I don’t know what the burn out is like on a takeoff but yeah it’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected,” he said.

In a different clip, the controller and “Rich” discussed where to land.

“There is the runway just off to your right side in about a mile,” the controller said. “That’s McChord.” [referring to the military airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord].

“Oh man!” “Richard” replied back loudly. “Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there. I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn’t want to do that. Oh! They probably have anti-aircraft!”

“No, they don’t have any of that stuff. We’re just trying to find a place for you to land safely,” the controller replied.

However, “Rich” said he wasn’t ready to land just yet.

“I’m 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,” he said.

The controller then asks “Rich” if he could make a left-hand turn but the pilot had other thoughts.

“This is probably jail time for life, huh?” “Rich” said. “I would hope it is for a guy like me.”

“Oh, Richard,” the controller said. “We’re not going to worry or think about that. But could you start a left-hand turn please?”

In another clip, “Rich” asked the controllers if they thought he would get a job as a pilot if he landed successfully.

“You know, I think they’ll give you a job doing anything if you can pull this off,” the controller replied.

The employee replied, “Yeah, right! [Inaudible] I’m a white guy [inaudible].”

At another time during the incident, “Rich” seemed to express regrets and wanted to apologize to the people who cared about him.

“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” “Richard” said. “It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”

The plane was witnessed flying over homes on August 10, 2018.

The plane was witnessed flying over homes on August 10, 2018. (Courtney Junka via AP)

Before the crash, “Richard” was heard saying he felt one of the engines was “going out or something.”

“OK, Rich,” the controller said. “If you could, you just want to keep that plane right over the water. Keep the aircraft nice and low.”


The empty Horizon Air turboprop plane crashed on Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. The 29-year-old man, who was believed killed in the crash, had no connection to terrorism. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the Pierce County resident.

Some unconfirmed reports on social media said the suspect was believed to have been an airline mechanic. Alaska Airlines later said he was an employee who helped direct aircraft to gates and de-ice planes. Horizon is a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines.

The crash of the Q400 -- described as a 76-seat aircraft designed for short trips -- occurred because the pilot was "doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills," the sheriff's department said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday morning that President Donald Trump is "monitoring the situation." He's currently at his New Jersey golf club.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson, Bradford Betz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.