By Dillon Thomas
WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4)– Days after learning his friend and former coworker died in a hijacked plane crash, Robert Reeves opened up about the story which took the nation’s attention to the skies.
Richard Russell, a Horizon Air ground crew employee in Seattle, stole a Q-400 aircraft Friday night. He was able to taxi, takeoff, and fly for more than an hour.
“I think I am going to try and do a barrel roll,” Russell said over the radio, while in flight.
Reeves told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he knew his friend was the man who stole the plane the second he heard the cockpit audio.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that was Richard,’” Reeves said. “I couldn’t believe the voice.”
“(I am) just a broken guy. I have a few screws loose. Never really knew it until now,” Russell said while flying the plane above Seattle.
The duo first met at SeaTac, one of the busiest airports in the nation. Russell trained Reeves on handling the Q-400 aircraft. They would then go on to work with the aircraft, on the ground, daily.
“We talked to each other every day,” Reeves said.
Russell stole the plane without assistance, according to preliminary reports. Reeves said some ground crew often spent time in the cockpit of the Q-400, but never started the engines.
“You go in to the cockpit, sit in the cockpit seat,” Reeves said, describing what ground crews did during some of their workdays.
While Reeves questioned how his friend was able to get the plane off the ground, he was more curious as to how Russell was able to fly it so dangerously.
“He was able to do acrobatic stunts, and fly a Q-400,” Reeves said. “I was more blown away, how was he able to do this?”
Russell was recorded by onlookers below, doing backflips and barrel rolls with the passenger aircraft. He was the only person aboard the plane.
By the tone of Russell’s voice, Reeves noticed he friend was not acting normal. He questioned if it was a mental issue, or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Investigators did not release any information which supported either side.
“He wasn’t being himself,” Reeves said.
Reeves quit working with Horizon Air and moved to Colorado. He said Russell often spoke of his displeasure with the pay level he was in at Horizon. Reeves described the Horizon Air work environment as stressful and short-staffed at times.
“The last time I spoke with him, it still really bothered him a lot,” Reeves said.
While mourning the loss of a friend, and coworker, Reeves said he would choose to remember Russell as a jokester, and someone who was always willing to lend a helping hand.
“He was one of the only people who had that heart, that motivation, to help,” Reeves said. “I have a lot to thank for him, for that.”
Reeves hoped this tragic incident would start a discussion among airline executives. He said security measures should be addressed. However, he hoped they would also consider increasing ground crew pay, while also adding additional outlets to help for mental health issues.
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.