As I am sure most of you have already heard, a couple evenings ago, a 29 year-old man named Richard Russell stole an Alaska/Horizon Q400 Bombadier passenger aircraft from the Seattle-Tacoma airport and crashed it into a virtually empty island in the Puget Sound.
He communicated regularly with air traffic control, making it clear that he did not want to hurt anyone but himself. By all accounts, he was a nice, friendly person. If the media had pivoted earlier to the security concerns this has raised, I would’ve likely put this out of my mind already, as I do shortly after every other time a death makes headlines. Surprisingly, and miraculously, they didn’t dismiss his humanity as early as they typically have.
Within hours of the crash, a face was put with a name. The air traffic control conversations were available. A video he posted on YouTube quickly surfaced. Suddenly, the story was not about 29 year-old Richard Russell, suicidal empty plane thief, but about a young man who seemed happy, was well-liked, and loved by those close to him. His surviving family’s statement affectionately calling him “Beebo”, made crystal-clear for anyone paying attention that seemingly happy, well-loved people are not immune to the suffering this world places upon people. In fact, he kind of reminded me a bit of me back at his age.
In the air traffic control recordings, he can be heard saying, “Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
It was that statement that really hit home for me. My constant health problems have brought on a little depression I’ve been battling to keep down for the past few months. I am no stranger to feeling depressed, and remember having momentary visions of the spectacular ways I could leave this world. I remember briefly thinking during certain situations in the moment how easily I could do something totally outrageous that had no real way out other than my death. In those situations, I remember not really caring that would be the outcome. However, I guess I have always had the screw in place, that stops me and tells me that the visions are just terrible fantasy and to keep trying and pushing forward in this life.
Maybe that is the screw that was loose in Richard Russell’s head. Maybe he had no last-second internal voice telling him he’s being irrational and not to go through with it. I believe that the conversations with air traffic control support this theory. It almost seems as if he had some clarity, where he might have realized he had gone too far, but the fear of “like jail time for life” may have convinced him to go forward with his suicide.
Had he changed his mind and been able to successfully land, he probably would’ve gotten that “jail for life”, if not a lifetime commitment to Western State Hospital (reportedly much worse than prison). After all, he stole a 32 million dollar plane. Maybe he did change his mind, as it seems he may have had engine trouble, although he also seemed reluctant to give up his suicide attempt after completing a maneuver it didn’t seem like he thought he would be able to pull-off. It seems to me, when the realization of what he had done hit him, he felt he had no good option but to continue with his tragic act.
Now the corporate media has gone into damage control. Someone must have put pressure on them to pivot away from the human side of this tragedy, and to the security concerns this has raised. After all, the man destroyed company property!!!! He can’t be made sympathetic!!!!! So now the media asks the question, “What can be done to keep this from happening again?”
While preventing someone from just grabbing a plane from a major airport and taking off is probably a good idea, it is the wrong place to start if one actually wants to prevent something like this or worse from happening again. Better security is fine and good, but it can’t stop everything. If one really wanted to prevent something like this from happening again, they need not carry out extensive investigations. They don’t have to look far at all, because Richard Russell told everyone, when he talked with air traffic control. “Minimum wage, we’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease some gears a little bit with the higher-ups,” was his answer.
While shareholders and corporate executives are getting richer and richer, regular people are struggling. The pacific northwest costs a fortune to live in. Travel benefits, while nice, do not put food on the table, nor do they pay rent. Richard Russell’s upbeat statement on his YouTube video that “it evens out in the end” has proven to be erroneous. People are struggling. Good, hard-working people are finding it harder and harder to keep their heads up.
The minimum wage in SeaTac is relatively quite high, but when the cost of living in the area (particularly housing) is taken into account, it still isn’t enough. Two people earning minimum wage could afford a two bedroom apartment, but if one person is unable to work for any reason, that is simply not possible. And if you think one minimum wage working person could afford a one bedroom apartment, you are mistaken. One bedroom units aren’t half the cost of a two bedroom unit. If you have children, or a family member who can’t work, your only option at minimum wage is to live off the support of other family, friends, or roommates.
Until corporate directors realize that the people on the ground doing the heavy lifting are just as necessary to their portfolios as the suit in the office next door, expect more people to break, more screws to fall out, and more spectacular tragedies such as this.
Richard Russell sent corporate executives a message. It was a message that cost Alaska Airlines millions of dollars (the real amount is difficult to figure, given airplane depreciation).
I really, really hope they are listening.
Safe home, Beebo.