A year after ramp agent Richard Russell stole an airliner at Sea-Tac Airport then crashed it into Ketron Island, airport administrators and the Port of Seattle vowed to make changes to prevent a repeat.
But what has been done so far? Most of the changes and proposals have been classified as “Security Sensitive,” which means the port, the airlines, the TSA and FAA won’t talk about it.
Of 32 recommendations made last December, 24 of them have been implemented, according to Lance Lyttle, the airport’s managing director.
Lyttle was not able to discuss many of those changes. However, he was able to share some of those recommendations with KING 5:
More security cameras: There were cameras at the remote area at the northeast corner of the airport known as Cargo 1 during the theft. But the airport says it has added more cameras around the airfield, including new ones that can be seen at Cargo 1. And any blind spots are now covered says Lyttle.
More frequent patrols: These patrols are made by ramp patrol personnel who monitor the airfield for everything from debris on the runways to birds and other wildlife. Other security teams patrol the fence lines and other places where people can get in. Since the night of the theft, patrols have been increased.
Badging/identification: The airport has had badges that only allow certain employees in certain places. But now, that badging is getting more restrictive to more specific areas. This change is still in development. Sea-Tac is also training employees to monitor each other, and challenge people who may show up in areas their badge does not permit them to be in.
Restrictions on working alone: Richard Russell was by himself with the plane he took, allowing him to get in, start the jet, turn it around with a tug-- then begin taxiing out onto the airfield and taking off.
Generally speaking, the airport is responsible for the airfield and other facilities, but the airlines responsible for the airplanes themselves. By working collaboratively, along with input from the TSA and FAA, Lyttle said no employee is allowed to move an airplane by themselves anymore.
Mental health: We may never know what motivated Russell to take off with the plane. According to the FBI’s accident investigation completed in November of 2018, “although investigators received information regarding Russell’s background, possible stressors, and personal life, no element provided a clear motivation for Russell’s actions.”
During the flight, his words on the radio to air traffic controllers seemed to indicate moods-- outwardly at least-- seemed to express fear, exhilaration and resignation. His death on Ketron Island classified as intentional, a suicide according to the FBI.
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“It’s hard to identify when somebody seems completely fine and then all of the sudden decides I’m going to go joyriding, and who knows what was going on in their mind,” said Jeff Price, an airport security expert for Leading Edge Strategies in Arvada, Colorado.
“You find out what precautions you can take, ultimately though, there’s always going to be at least some threat, no matter all of the procedures you do, there’s still always going to be a chance,” Price said.
Sea-Tac had some security procedures in place that did not exist at other major airports, like employees having to go through their own screening lanes operated by the port itself, not unlike what passengers go through with the TSA.
Russel went through those screenings on the day he took off with the plane.
“We understand there is no perfect security system,” Lyttle said. “So our security procedures and protocols are constantly being revised, constantly being enhanced.”