Thoughts on the Sea-Tac Incident

In case you haven’t heard the story, very briefly, a man named Richard Russell, or ‘Rich’, somehow managed to steal a Horizon Q400 from Sea-Tac airport in Seattle on 08/11/2018 in an apparent suicide mission. He was a member of the airport ground crew and had certain accesses to the planes. After stealing the 76-seat commercial airliner, he flew  around for approximately two hours while an ATC officer patiently tried to direct him and talk him down. After cruising around at low altitude over inhabited areas as well as attempting to perform dangerous maneuvers with the craft, he eventually crashed into Ketron Island. Here is a link to parts of the ATC discussion with Rich as the event unfolded.

I have been asked several times to comment and share my thoughts on the Sea-Tac incident which occurred yesterday. I have been slightly hesitant for many personal reasons. In my mind this is an extremely difficult as well as delicate situation to approach, and opinions are a dime a dozen, honestly. But of course, like the rest of the aviation world, I have been contemplating the chain of events and their implications. I watched all the videos and listened to all the air transmissions carefully today, and after some contemplation, here are my current thoughts based upon the available information.

It’s incredibly sad. Somehow, somewhere this man, who actually sounds like a well-liked, decent overall person, decided that life was no longer worth living. It was clearly a suicide mission. My heart hurts that he found himself in a place of such intense hopelessness that this was his only recourse. Let it be a reminder to us to be diligent about reaching out to others in our lives, taking time to truly know them, telling them they are loved often and without reserve, checking on them regularly, picking up a phone and having a real conversation… Liking their Facebook post and forgetting about them until the next tragedy racks their life is simply not enough. We need to put down our devices and look people in the eye – really see them. I don’t know his story, but I know how it ended. I believe it didn’t have to end that way. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please get help. Please pick up the phone and call a loved one or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. There is more for you out there beyond this difficult moment. You are precious and loved by God and the people in your life. Live! Fight for yourself. Please, live.

My condolences to his family. It’s the people who are left behind that truly deal with the aftermath of these sorts of situations. My prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to the people that loved him. I know that they are struggling with the why’s today. I don’t think we ever really see these things coming. I hope that they somehow find the courage and strength to face each new day as they learn to move forward without him and to deal with the way he left this world. The media and the social media platforms can be cruel, unforgiving, hateful. Let us not add our voice to that hatred, family. As for me and my page, we will view his family and their pain from a place of compassion and grace. We will offer kindness and forgiveness as it applies to his loved ones. The only thing worse than losing a loved one…is losing them in the public eye. I pray that they are left alone to grieve and put their lives back together one piece at a time.

How in the world did this happen? That’s a fantastic question, and one which I cannot answer at all. I am sure that a thorough and dedicated investigation into the incident is already under way, and we will slowly but surely hear more about it. There will undoubtedly also be changes to security, clearances, and laws. After all, aviation is a world whose rules are all written in blood. It is simply the inherent truth. Getting that airliner started and off the ground is quite an impressive feat. It sounds to me like he’s had some time in a plane or SIM somewhere in his past, perhaps, but only time will tell. It’s a shame, really. He obviously had the makings of someone who could have had a successful career in aviation had he had only made different choices.

Assignment of heroism. Though I do not think his immediate intent was to hurt anyone but himself, he was not without harm to others. I keep reading that he ‘tried his best not to hurt anyone else’ and that he was a ‘hero’. This is absolutely not true in my eyes. No, he didn’t walk into a public building with a firearm and blow away innocents, but a jet loaded with fuel flying low altitude above inhabited areas by untrained hands is as good as a loaded gun. It has the potential to kill hundreds of innocents, intentionally or not. He endangered lives, period. He did not know how to appropriately control or land the aircraft and yet took it upon himself to commandeer the machine. He attempted dangerous and difficult maneuvers that could have ended horribly for any number of people at any moment. It was pure luck and perhaps an act of God that this incident did not end much more tragically. That is not the stuff heroes are made of. We cannot rightfully assign a title of heroism to a person who knowingly put hundreds of lives in danger with his premeditated actions. He destroyed a multi-million dollar plane that did not belong to him, destroyed the hearts of the people who loved him most (which he even acknowledges in his transmissions), forced the scrambling of military personal over civilian land, caused great angst and stress on any number of people who were dealing with the situation, amongst others. Harm was done. Please stop saying it was not. Broken, yes. Immensely. Sad, yes. Terribly. Hero? I’m sorry, no. Not even a little bit.

Please Stop Calling Him ‘Captain’ Rich. Absolutely, 100% not. Just no. There is far more to being Captain than sitting in the left seat. I don’t get to become a ‘fireman’ because I steal a fire truck and crash it into an empty building (hey, I didn’t kill anyone, yay me!); you don’t become a Captain because you stole a plane and crashed it into an island. Men and women work exceedingly hard to earn the coveted title of Captain. They have skin in the game, and so do their families. They spend thousands of flight hours, thousands of dollars, tens of years, and unending dedication and sacrifice to learning every in and out of an aircraft to earn the title. A Captain is a man or woman who has the skill and knowledge to land a plane, save a plane from countless possible eventualities, safely maneuver the plane through the skies, follow the rules and regs…not just take off and do a few circles. He or she uses that hard-earned skill to safely bring her home and would never, ever endanger the lives of other human beings with his/her craft. It is their passion, their heart, their life pursuit. You don’t steal a plane in a selfish show and get rewarded with a title that others have worked their butts off to obtain. We do not get to put a man on a pedestal because he stole something that did not belong to him and then destroyed it, endangering who knows how many lives in the process. I will not take the hard-earned title – one of great respect and dignity – and apply it to a man who stole and destroyed an aircraft, needlessly endangering lives in the process. That is demeaning to Captains (and all pilots) everywhere who have rightfully earned their titles.

Let’s talk about a real hero. That gentleman from the ATC? Man, this guy was a real hero. And yet, I cannot find his name listed anywhere in any article. If anyone knows who he was, give me a shout out so I can add it here. He deserves accolades in droves. This guy is an unsung hero, and all I can find about him is a reference as ‘the controller’. I listened to those heart-wrenching transmissions. ‘The controller’ calmly instructs the man in the aircraft, doing everything in his limited power to convince him to land the plane safely, stay away from inhabited areas, keep it over the water, avoid doing barrel rolls…for hours. You want to assign a ‘hero’ title to anyone in this situation, this guy has my vote 2000%. His heart had to be in his throat and his stomach doing its own barrel rolls the entire time he tried to talk down this suicidal man from the air. Yet not once did he stumble in his words, falter in his job, hesitate in his responses. I fully believe his calm and collected demeanor and continued level-headedness in the face of imminent tragedy saved lives. Give this man a medal. He deserves it. Sir, you are a hero.

Brokenness. We are surrounded by it. It sucks. My heart hurts for the Rich and whatever failure and pain brought him to that place. My heart hurts for his family. I do not loathe the man, but pity his deep brokenness. I wonder if there was one moment in time, one conversation, one hug, one ‘I see you and your pain’ that could have somehow changed the trajectory of his life and diverted this incident. We will always wonder, never knowing.

That’s why we must love the people who cross our paths fiercely every single day. Take every opportunity to reach out to someone, tell them they are loved, take a moment to see past their Facebook posts and into their hearts, care about their pain.

Be there. Friends…just BE there.

There are a lot of ‘Rich’s’ in our world who are hurting and feel alone. Let this terrible situation remind us to love one another fiercely. We just don’t know what tomorrow holds, and we don’t know when or how a single smile and word of encouragement will change everything….

I LOVE you , family. Love fiercely

Angelia (a fellow Pilot Wife)

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