Although it's not yet known how Richard, who worked with airport baggage and was not a pilot, was able to get in the plane and fly it away from the airport without being caught, F-15 fighter jets were called to track him as soon as airline employees realized what was going on.
The air controller tells him there is a runway just off to his right "in about a mile [1.6km]", referring to a military airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there".
During the ordeal, the self-proclaimed pilot could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is "just a broken guy".
After flying around an unpredictable path, the plane crashed at a nearby island.
The man was a resident of Pierce County, Wash., and "acted alone", the Pierce County Sheriff's Department tweeted.
Alaska Airlines said the plane was in a "maintenance position" when it was stolen and not scheduled for a passenger flight.
The Bombardier Q400 turboprop airplane is designed for shorter-distance flights and can seat 76 passengers, Alaska Air said on its website.
Mr Russell was an airline ground agent working his regular shift when he stole the empty Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport. "We are working back ground on him now", the Pierce County Sheriff wrote. "Uploading and downloading the plane", said Halbert.
Coaches at Wasilla High School, where Russell was a football player, wrestler and discus thrower, told the Anchorage Daily News they were shocked.
"I would like to apologise to each and every one of them". But ... the air traffic controller had to tell him how to set what they call the "bugs" - they're just little sort of little levers, or little notches on your indicator for your heading ... which is kind of basic.
Southers, the aviation security expert, said the man could have caused mass destruction.
Airline officials said the ground service agent had a certification to tow aircraft, which results in a higher security clearance than other ground agents.
He then said: "I wouldn't know how to land - I wasn't really planning on landing it". We have police boats, we have everybody responding.
"The person who stole it was either doing it on a lark, or was suicidal", Pastor said, adding there was no indication anyone else was on the plane.
He flew for about one hour, often erratically, before crashing on Ketron Island in Puget Sound, about 25 miles (40 km) to the southwest.
According to the mercurynews.com, witnesses reported seeing the Bombardier Q400, a turboprop aircraft, perform a loop-the-loop and almost slam into Chambers Bay, all while being pursued by fighter jets.
"That's their job, to be around these planes", said Brad Tilden, president and CEO of Alaska. "I've played video games before, so I know what I'm doing a little bit".
"Rich" said: "I've got a lot of people that care about me". He didn't hear the crash, but saw smoke. The aircraft were trying to direct the stolen twin-engine plane toward the Pacific Ocean when it crashed on Ketron Island, the news release said.