An Seattle-based ground crew worker turned Seattle Hijacking Stuntman stole an empty aircraft and carried out a series of loops before crashing it. This raises serious questions about aviation security, and whether such an event could occur in Australia.
A 29-year-old American ground crew worker employed by Horizon Air walked into a 76-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, stole it and carried out incredible stunts over the Seattle metropolitan region for about an hour.
Two military F-15s shadowed the aircraft, air traffic controllers pleaded the stuntman to land, and bystanders on the ground filmed the event believing it was an air show.
The hijacking stuntman, Richard Russell (pictured), had apparently learnt how to carry out such stunts from video games. He was however suicidal and crashed the aircraft over Ketron Island.
Authorities are currently investigating how such an event was possible. “This is going to be a major learning event for the industry,” aviation analyst Justin Green said. “This is a really big deal.”
Russell had been an employee for Horizon Air since 2015 and also had the relevant security clearances to access the plane. He was familiar with the tractors moving aircraft on the tarmac, and used one to tow the plane outside of the maintenance area. He subsequently entered the cockpit and taxied down the runway.
The former inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department commented that ground crew members complete medical exams on a more limited basis compared to pilots. They also do not take mental health exams. Ground crew members are not allowed in the cockpits but security procedures are not always observed.
Could a ‘Seattle Hijacking Stuntman’ event happen in Australia?
Avlaw Aviation Consulting Founding Director Ron Bartsch spoke to the New Daily about this bizarre turn of events, warning of a potential ‘copycat’ hijacker in Australia. He said that the increased sophistication of computers and simulators raises that risk of an unqualified person teaching themselves how to fly.
He said that whilst baggage handlers probably could not access the cockpit, other ground personnel could like flight engineers. He said there must be focus on background and security checks, with “some degree of ongoing psychological or general medical testing for anyone with access to aircraft and flight controls.”
Flight engineers and airworthiness personnel are approved to start aircraft and taxi them around for maintenance. So whilst a ‘copycat’ stuntman would be rare and perhaps improbable, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
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