A frame grab taken from a video made by bystander John Wauldron at a golf course in University Place, Washington shows the passenger airplane stolen from the Seattle-Tacoma airport making an aerial loop. (AFP Photo)
The “suicidal” man who commandeered and crashed a plane without passengers from a US airport in Washington state seemed excited, confused, and at times calm while talking with the air traffic control tower.
The 29-year-old man identified as “Rich” or “Richard” flew out of the Seattle-Tacoma airport with a twin engine, 76-seat turboprop Bombardier Q400 belonging to Horizon Air at around 8pm local time Friday (10am Saturday Thailand time).
Two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled as “Rich” flew the passenger plane in an aerial loop, then headed south. He is believed to have died when the plane crashed after a 90-minute “joy ride”.
The local sheriff’s office quickly described him via Twitter as “suicidal”, but audio from his conversation with the Sea-Tac control tower portrays a more complex picture.
“Rich” said in a matter-of-fact way that he fuelled the airplane “to go check out the Olympics”, according to audio posted by The Seattle Times newspaper. The reference probably was to the Olympic peninsula north of Seattle.
He then expresses about fuel — it “burned quite a bit faster than I expected” — as the air traffic control officer gently tries to direct him to a nearby military base.
“Oh man,” “Rich” answers. “Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there. … They probably have anti-aircraft.”
“They don’t have any of that stuff,” the air-traffic controller assures him. “We’re just trying to find a place for you to land safely.”
“I’m not quite ready to bring it down just yet,” the pilot says.
“This is probably jail time for life, huh?” he asks. “I would hope it is for a guy like me.”
“Oh, Richard,” the controller responds. “We’re not going to worry or think about that. But could you start a left turn please?”
Later on the pilot says: “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologise to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”