An air traffic controller called him "Rich", and tried to convince him to land the airplane.
Scott Adams, a battalion chief with West Pierce Fire and Rescue, said about 10:30 p.m. the crash had started a grass fire, and that two fire engines, a medic unit and a command unit were at the site, along with firefighting staff from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there", Mr Russell responded and later added "this is probably jail time for life, huh?"
He went through various background checks to get clearance to be in the secured area, authorities said.
He flew it for an hour, followed by two armed F-15 jets from OR that the military scrambled, before he crashed.
The sheriff´s office said the F-15s arrived minutes after the plane was stolen and kept the aircraft "out of harm´s way and people on the ground safe".
The man was a resident of Pierce County, Wash., and "acted alone", the Pierce County Sheriff's Department tweeted.
The Sheriff's Department said it was "not a terrorist incident".
"An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound", it read.
Horizon Air COO Constance von Muehlen said she believed the plane had been taken by "a single Horizon Air employee" and that no other passengers or crew were on board.
The family of a man who stole a Horizon Air aircraft from Sea-Tac Airport and crashed it say they're "stunned and heartbroken" by his death.
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Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor called the flight a "joyride gone horribly wrong", while also referring to Russell as "suicidal". So many bags, " he said.
"I really think they could have handled it better". They said the family "is moving forward with the hard talk of processing our grief" and asked for space to mourn.
It was unclear where he got the skills to perform such manoeuvres, authorities said.
It shows a different side of Richard than the man heard on air traffic control recordings. A former Horizon Air colleague of Russell's who witnessed the crash told Buzzfeed that Russell was "a pretty nice kid", and that "It never crossed my mind that somebody would do something like that".
Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement early this morning that the airline was "working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened".
Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane.
President Donald Trump was briefed and the White House praised authorities´ quick response to the crisis.
"I understand you have a lot of questions but our investigation aims to be thorough", Dietrich-Williams said via email. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the audio between "Rich" and the tower in condensed form (which is not embeddable here), and the impression in the first part of the recording is of someone who's enjoying himself - even as he's putting lots of other people at risk. Only the unknown pilot was on the plane.
One colleague said, "People did not see him as a threat".