Jon Ostrower is an aviation journalist, a CNN alum who is now editor-in-chief of his own industry publication, The Air Current. He lives within earshot of SeaTac. “I remember getting ready for dinner, and I started to think, it’s really quiet,” he says. “I stepped on the balcony; it was a beautiful evening, absolutely gorgeous. And I just didn’t hear anything.” Ostrower hopped on Twitter, then the open air-traffic-control channels, and soon was listening to Russell banter with air-traffic control. He could hardly fathom what was happening. “Given everything that’s gone on since 9/11,” he says, “you shouldn’t be able to steal a commercial airliner and take off from the ninth-busiest airport in the country.”
With the F-15s trailing at a close distance, Russell set course for the Olympic Mountains. As he soared over the Sound, he grew reflective – and started to say goodbye. “I got a lot of people that care about me, and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” he said, his voice more sober now. “I would like to apologize to each and every one of them,” adding in a confessional tone: “[I’m] just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it till now.”
Soon Russell was buzzing by the second mountain range of his flight: “Man, have you been to the Olympics? These guys are gorgeous. Holy smokes.” NORAD had gathered top decision-makers, including then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, into what it calls an Operation Noble Eagle Conference. They debated Russell’s fate on a classified network. The F-15s were authorized to “head-butt” – to execute sharp turns in front of the Q400 – and even to drop warning flares to gain Russell’s compliance. “We never actually got to the execution stage,” says Armstrong, “just because he became so erratic in his flight.”
“Given everything that’s gone on since 9/11, you shouldn’t be able to steal an airliner from the ninth-busiest airport in the country,” says an aviation journalist who listened live to Beebo’s flight.
As Russell steeled himself, regret was again a companion: “The sights went by so fast,” he said
Looping back toward the southern Sound, Russell broke in with an alarming request: “Hey, pilot guy,” he said. “Can this thing do a backflip, ya think?” It was just before 8:30 p.m.; the sky was turning twilight. Russell was coming up with a plan. “Think I’m gonna try to do a barrel roll,” he said, “and if that goes good, then I’ll just nose down and call it a night.”
“I was thinking, like, I’m going to have this moment of serenity. You know? I’ll be able to best teen hookup apps take in all the sights. There’s a lot of pretty stuff,” he added. “But, uh, I think they’re prettier in a different context.”
And it didn’t involve a landing
After several minutes Russell continued: “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?” The amateur video of capturing what happens next defies belief. The 108-foot-long passenger plane soars skyward before suddenly tipping over, clockwise. The Q400 rolls into a diving, upside-down swoop toward earth, nearly coming vertical before flipping over again. As the craft rolls, it never falters, leveling off right above the water of the Puget Sound for a few perilous seconds, before ascending anew into the dusk-pink sky.
An eyewitness report came over the radio from one of the intercepting F-15s, whose pilot referred to the Q400 as “Track of Interest 1” or “TOI1.” His radio transmission sounds somewhat awestruck: “TOI1 just completed a barrel roll.”