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Local aviation psychologist weighs in on Seattle plane theft

Posted at 5:28 PM, Aug 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-14 01:30:30-04

What was going through a Richard Russell's mind when he commandeered a plane and took to the skies for some aerobatics before ultimately crashing? Local aviation expert Dr. Erin Bowen wants to know how he managed to pull it off. 

"It is incredibly surprising that a ramp agent, without even a private pilot's license, was able to single-handedly back out an aircraft, climb aboard that aircraft, activate that aircraft and taxi to an active runway without anyone observing, notifying or stopping him," said Dr. Bowen.

Dr. Bowen is an aviation psychologist at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. 

After hearing the air traffic control tapes, Dr. Bowen believes 29-year-old Horizon Airlines baggage handler Richard Russell had an underlying illness.

"What you hear is somebody who sounds very disoriented and not that calm, flat affect you often hear with individuals who are in the process of committing suicide who have committed to that action," said Dr. Bowen.

You can hear Russell on the audio tapes saying he can fly because he played video games. Dr. Bowen finds it hard to believe video games were enough to teach him how to take off from Seattle Tacoma airport on Friday, performing stunts before crashing the plane about 25 miles south of the airport.

"There's a lot of procedures in place in aviation that typically would've prevented an incident like this," said Dr. Bowen. "Aviation is known for having double and triple redundancy in all of its systems."

The FBI is investigating the incident.