US investigators found Sunday the Horizon Air passenger plane stolen by a troubled Seattle airport worker smashed to pieces on a sparsely populated island as his family reacted with "complete shock," CNN reported.
After falling through several 100-foot (30-meter) lines of trees, the Bombardier Q400 plane broke up into pieces small enough to pick up by hand, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Western Pacific Region chief Debra Eckrote said.
"You couldn't even tell it was a plane except for some of the bigger sections, like the wing section," Eckrote said. "Even the small sections, most of it doesn't resemble a plane."
Two F-15 fighter jets chased the twin-engine turboprop plane that Richard Russell had hijacked.
During the hour he spent in the air, Russell flew the plane in a loop - an improbable stunt caught on video by a surprised bystander - then slammed it into Ketron Island in Puget Sound.
Authorities ruled out any link to terror, and determined Russell had flown alone. No one besides Russell was hurt, and the F-15s did not shoot down the plane, according to officials.
The local sheriff described Russell, nicknamed "Beebo," as "suicidal" when he flew off in an empty passenger plane from Seattle's main airport late Friday. Colleagues remembered him as "quiet" and "very friendly."
NTSB investigators are set to analyze the recovered flight data recorder for clues next week.
Russell's family said the incident came as a "complete shock to us."
"It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man," the family said in a statement.
We are "stunned and heartbroken" by the incident, the family said.
"He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend."
Russell's role at Horizon, an Alaska Airlines affiliate where he had worked since 2015, involved towing aircraft, loading and unloading cargo and luggage, and cleaning the aircraft, officials said.
'Suicidal' man steals and crashes empty plane from Seattle airport
Two military F-15 jets were scrambled late Friday after a "suicidal" airline worker stole and later crashed an empty passenger plane from the Seattle-Tacoma airport, local officials said.
Local authorities quickly ruled out terrorism as a motive for the incident, and said the F-15s "were not involved in the crash."
An airline employee "conducted an unauthorized takeoff" of an airplane carrying no passengers at the major airport in the northwestern US state of Washington, airport officials said on Twitter.
The aircraft "crashed in south Puget Sound," Sea-Tac Airport said, adding that normal operations at the transport hub had resumed after a pause.
"This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info... this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved," the Pierce County Sheriff said.
The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old Pierce county resident who "acted alone," the sheriff's office added, confirming that there were "no passengers on the plane" when it crashed.
Video taken by a bystander showed the airplane making a loop, then flying low over a body of water.
Alaska Airlines on Twitter said the airplane was a turboprop Q400 airplane belonging to its sister carrier Horizon Air.
Local media described the man who stole the plane as a mechanic.
Airplane theft shows potential dangers from airline workers
The theft of an empty turboprop plane by an airline worker at Sea-Tac International Airport who performed dangerous loops before crashing into a remote island in Puget Sound illustrated what aviation experts have long known: One of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel is airline or airport employees causing mayhem.
Investigators are piecing together how the airline ground agent working his regular shift stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off Friday night from Sea-Tac and fatally crashed into the a small island after being chased by military jets that were quickly scrambled.
Officials said Saturday that the man was a 3.5-year Horizon employee and had clearance to be among aircraft, but that to their knowledge, he wasn't a licensed pilot.