The 29-year-old hijacker, a ground services employee with Horizon Air, part of Alaska Airlines, was known to his relatives as "Beebo" and described by them as "a warm, compassionate man."
"He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend. A childhood friend remarked that Beebo was loved by everyone because he was kind and gentle to each person he met," Richard Russell's family said in a statement.
They referred to the stolen plane's voice recordings which they said show that "Beebo's intent was not to harm anyone and he was right in saying that there are so many people who loved him."
The Seattle Times cited Rick Christenson, a former co-worker, as saying that Russell was "a quiet guy" who "seemed like he was well liked by the other workers."
Horizon CEO Gary Beck, in turn, said that it remains unclear how Russell learned to start, taxi and fly an aircraft, performing aerial stunts, because "unlike a car, there's not a key that you stick in and turn."
Russell was reportedly part of part of Horizon's tow team tasked with moving planes around on the tarmac, a job that allowed him "to fly to Alaska at my leisure", according to Russell's Web page that he set up for a college communications class.
"That means I lift a lot of bags, like a lot of bags, so many bags. It allows me to do some pretty cool things, too," Reuters cited Russell as saying in a video posted on YouTube last December.
In the social media posts, Russell never mentioned his studying to become a pilot, but his separate posts singled out his Christian religious faith and the possibility of joining the military, according to Reuters.
Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, for his part, has said that if Russell "had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground."
Richard is believed to have stolen the Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 aircraft at the 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, the airplane crashed on sparsely populated Ketron Island in Pierce County, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) southwest of Seattle.