The theft of an Alaska Air Group turboprop plane by an employee whom authorities described as "suicidal" underscores a challenge in the aviation sector: Balancing access with security.
The stolen plane crashed on an island in Puget Sound, killing the employee about an hour after he took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The 29-year-old man — identified as Richard Russell, according to NBC News — had authorized access to the company's planes to perform his job, executives said.
The fully-credentialed, ground-services worker was responsible for loading and unloading passengers' luggage, tidying the aircraft and worked on a team that towed planes, the company said.
Access to planes came with the job, even though Alaska's CEO Brad Tilden said the man's work had ended for the day and the aircraft, and the 76-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane of regional unit Horizon Air, was not scheduled to fly that evening.
"Yesterday's events will push us to learn what we can from this tragedy so that we can help prevent it from ever happening again, at our airline or any other," Tilden said at a news conference Saturday.