Seattle (AFP) - Co-workers said the 29-year-old airport worker nicknamed "Beebo" who commandeered an empty passenger plane from Seattle's main airport, then crashed it into an island in Puget Sound, was "quiet" and "very friendly."
The local sheriff described Horizon Air employee Richard Russell as "suicidal" when he flew off in an empty passenger plane from Seattle's main airport late Friday.
Russell's family, however. used words as "warm" and "compassionate" to describe the married man who once owned a bakery.
Two F-15 fighter jets chased the twin-engine turboprop plane that Russell had hijacked for more than an hour. He flew the Bombardier Q400 plane in a loop -- an improbable stunt caught on video by a surprised bystander -- then slammed it into a sparsely populated island in Puget Sound.
Authorities ruled out any link to terror.
"It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man," read a letter from Russell's family released to the US media.
We are "stunned and heartbroken" by the incident, read the letter, which the family said would be the only statement they would make.
"He was a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend ... This is a complete shock to us."
Russell's personal blog, last updated in December 2017, said he was born in Florida and moved to Alaska at age 7 -- information that local authorities corroborated, The Seattle Times reported.
Russell wrote that he met his wife in Oregon state in 2010, married one year later, and opened a bakery that they jointly ran for three years.
The couple then moved to neighboring Washington state in 2015 to be closer to their families, according to the blog.
Russell's role at Horizon, where he had worked since 2015, involved towing aircraft, loading and unloading cargo and luggage, and cleaning the aircraft, officials said. Initial reports said he was an airline mechanic.
Based on the blog Russell seemed to enjoy his job, and used airline travel benefits to visit places like Ireland and France.
Russell was also a leader in Young Life, a local Christian youth ministry.
"He was very, very friendly -- automatically willing to bring everyone in," Hannah Holmes, who was also involved in Young Life, told The Seattle Times.
Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with Horizon Air who recently retired, told the newspaper that Russell was "a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers."
Security personnel were shocked by how easily Russell was able to fly off with the 76-seat turboprop plane.
"Everybody's stunned ... that something like this would happen," said Christenson. "How could it? Everybody's been through background checks."
Russell "had access legitimately" to the plane, said Mike Ehl, director of aviation operations at the airport, adding that "no security violations were committed."
"To our knowledge, he didn't have a pilot's license," Gary Beck, CEO of Alaska Airlines affiliate Horizon, told reporters.
"Commercial aircraft are complex machines ... No idea how he achieved that experience."
FBI agent Jay Tabb, who is helping investigate the crash, said officials believe Russell was alone aboard the plane. "But of course, we haven't confirmed that at the crash site," he said.