22:05 GMT17 February 2020
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    Three leaked audio files believed to involve the disgruntled Horizon Air ground mechanic who stole a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 airliner and proceeded to fly around the vicinity of Seattle has shed light on the hijacker's state of mind during the dramatic incident.

    The suspected conversation between the hijacker, addressed by an air traffic controller as "Rich" or "Richard," was linked to by aviation journalist Jon Ostrower and published on SoundCloud by Tom Cleary in three separate clips running from 7:24 p.m. to 8:54 p.m. as the incident unfolded.

    The first clip features about 16 minutes of mostly normal air traffic controller chatter, with the controllers' instructions suddenly interrupted by Rich, who says, "Man, I'm a ground service agent. I don't know what that is!"

    Two minutes later, Rich, in the air and flying the stolen plane, is heard saying that while he managed to takeoff, he "wouldn't know how to land it. I wasn't really planning on landing it."

    Told at 18:25 that he would be put in touch with someone who could help him land, Rich replies, "Alrighty. Um, yeah, I just wanna do a couple maneuvers, see what it can do before I put her down, you know?"

    Scene of Horizon Air Q400 crash
    © Photo : Twitter / Janelle Wang : Screenshot
    For a few minutes more the air traffic controllers continued handing out instructions to other planes. At 22:55, Rich interrupts again: "I threw up a little bit … Ah, you know, I uh, oh shoot. Man I'm sorry about this. I hope this doesn't ruin your day."

    At 24:10, when asked whether he felt comfortable flying the plane, Rich responds: "Oh hell yeah, It's a blast man! I've played video games before, so I know what I'm doing a little bit."

    When asked whether he was having any issues with visibility, Rich answers: "Everything's peachy, peachy clean. I just did a little circle around, it's beautiful. I think I've got some gas to go check out the Olympics," referring to Washington State's Olympic Mountains or Olympic National Park. 

    At 1:35 in the second recording, Rich chuckles about having thrown up all over the cockpit. "It's bad!" he exclaims.

    At 4:05, Rich was told that air traffic control was trying to keep him away from another aircraft that wanted to landed at Sea Tac. "Oh OK! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don't want to screw with that. I'm glad you're not screwing up everyone else's day … on account of me," he says, confirming that he had no intention of causing anyone any harm.

    At 5:25, the hijacker panics about being down to 2,100 pounds of fuel. "Yeah, I don't know what the burnage, burnout is like on takeoff but yeah, it burns quite a bit faster than I expected!"

    Soon after, Rich is told that there is a runway about a mile away at McChord Air Force Base. "Oh man, those guys would rough me up if I tried landing there! I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn't wanna do that. Hopefully, oh they've probably got anti-aircraft!" he says.

    "This is probably like jail time for life, huh?" Rich reflects. "I would hope it is for a guy like me," with control telling him not to worry about that at that particular moment. 

    At 9:20, the first-time pilot boasts that he doesn't need that much help flying, given that he's played video games, but notes that he wanted to know how to pressurize the plane "so I'm not so lightheaded."

    At 11:00 minutes in, Rich says something about "minimum wage." "We'll chalk it up to that. Maybe that'll grease the gears a little bit with the higher ups."

    At 18:10, Rich says, "I didn't know you could do that with these things," presumably after pulling off a maneuver.

    ​Speaking about the possibility of landing, Rich asks: "If you were to do it, how would you do it?" before being told he should try to figure out how to use the autopilot first. At 20:55, the controller again asks him whether he wants to land at McChord, or over Puget Sound into the water. Rich responds: "Dang! Did you talk to McChord yet, because I don't think I'd be happy with you telling me I could land like that, cause I could mess some stuff up."

    "Well Rich I already talked to them, and just like me what we want to see is you not get hurt or anybody else get hurt. So like I said if you want to try to land, that's probably the best place to go," the flight controller says. The controller repeats his appeal at 25:00 minutes in.

    In the final SoundCloud recording, at 2:00 minutes in, Rich apologizes for his actions. "I got a lot of people that care about me, and it's gonna disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until now," he says.

    At 5:10, Rich announces that he wants to land the plane. "I think I'm gonna land it like in a safe, safe kind of manner. I think I'm gonna try to do a barrel role, and if that goes good I'll just go nose down and call it a night."

    At 7:30, the hijacker complains about feeling "kind of light-headed, dizzy. Man and you know and the sights went by so fast. I was thinking like I was gonna have this moment of serenity, and I'll be able to take in all the sights. There's a lot of pretty stuff, but I think they're prettier in a different context." 

    At 11:50, the air traffic controller asks how much fuel Rich's plane has left. "Not enough, not enough to get by; like 760, 760 pounds," he responds. At 12:30, Rich says "I'm just gonna do this barrel roll real quick." At 14:20, he asks: "I feel like I need to be, what do you think, like 5,000 feet at least to be able to pull this barrel roll off?" At 16:50, a man calling himself Captain Bill congratulates Rich on the barrel role and encourages him to try to land. "Ahh alright. Nah, dammit I don't know man, I don't know! I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was gonna be it, ya know?"

    At 18:50, Rich says something about losing one of his instruments. He's told to try to keep the plane "nice and low" over the water.

    Rich is believed to have stolen the Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday, with the unauthorized takeoff made at about 8 p.m. local time. Two US Air Force F-15s were scrambled to intercept the aircraft. After pulling off a series of maneuvers (some of which were captured on amateur video), the airliner crashed on the sparsely populated Ketron Island in Pierce County, about 40 km southwest of Seattle.

    Law enforcement has not released the airplane thief's name, but did confirm that he was a 29-year-old Horizon Air ground service employee.


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    skyjacking, hijacking, Horizon Air, Seattle, United States
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