Two Suicides by Airplane in Four Days

Experts worry second crash was a copycat event.

seattle hijacking
Last Friday, a Horizon Air ground service employee stole a Bombardier Q400 (like the one pictured) from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.Hawaiian717/Wikimedia Commons

Two men over the past few days took their own lives by using airplanes as instruments of their own deaths. Last Friday, a Horizon Air employee stole a Bombardier Q400 turboprop from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), and took it on an hour-long joyride that included aerobatics before crashing the airplane on Kentron Island in Puget Sound. Horizon Air is owned by Alaska Airlines. Early Monday morning a man in Utah stole a Citation CJ from Spanish Fork Airport (SPK) and crashed it into his own home located near Payson. While the pilot died, no one on the ground was injured.

In Seattle, Richard Russell, a Horizon Air ground service agent with full security access, as well as an "aircraft tow certification," stole the plane from Sea-Tac, CBS News reported. Russell is not a licensed pilot. It is unclear where he gained the knowledge needed to start the engines, takeoff and fly the aerobatic routines he did before crashing the airliner. Luckily there were no passengers on board the 76-seat airliner when Russell took the aircraft.

Audio recordings of Russell's exchanges with air traffic controllers were posted on YouTube. "I've got a lot of people that care about me," Russell said in the recordings. "It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this ... just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess." YouTube footage also showed Russell flying the Dash 8 erratically, while being followed closely by a pair of F-15s scrambled by NORAD shortly after his unauthorized takeoff from Sea-Tac.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association commended the actions of the Seattle controllers and military personnel who handled the Sea-Tac crash. “It was an incredible team effort marked by a shared commitment to ensuring the safety of all other aircraft in the vicinity,” NATCA said in a written statement.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Duane Youd, reported to be an experienced pilot, crashed a Cessna Citation CJ into his own home in Payson Utah, about 10 miles south of Provo. The crash happened at 2:38 a.m. Just a few hours before, Youd, a man with a previous record of domestic violence incidents, had been released from the Utah County jail following an arrest the night before on charges of assaulting his wife. News reports indicate Youd had been drinking before the violence broke out between him and his wife.

Shortly after being released from the Payson jail, Youd, who was accompanied by police officers, went to his home about 1 a.m. to retrieve some personal items. That is the last anyone heard from Youd until local police were informed of the crash an hour and a half later. After parting from the police, Youd apparently proceeded to the Spanish Fork airport where the Citation, owned by Youd’s employer, was parked. Local news reports indicate Youd’s wife and adult son were home at the time of the crash, but escaped unharmed.

Psychologists familiar with multiple suicides told Flying the first thing they worried about after hearing both reports was that the second was a copycat event based on the Seattle incident. They also warned there might be more such events.