Air traffic controllers tried to encourage the man to land before the plane crashed, a recording being shared online reveals.
In partial recordings of his conversations with air traffic controllers that were published online by Broadcastify.com, the man said he was sorry to disappoint people who cared about him and described himself as a "broken guy".
The Anchorage Daily News says Russell, who was a gregarious, well-liked student in high school, went on to play one season of football at Valley City State.
Audio captured between the man - who was identified as "Rich" - and air traffic controllers show him asking for help to get the cabin pressurised so he would stop feeling so lightheaded.
The plane eventually crashed on sparsely populated Ketron Island, starting a fire in the woods and killing Russell.
A number of videos on social media show the plane flying over the area in an erratic manner.
Sheriff's department spokesman Ed Troyer also confirmed that two U.S. Air Force F-15s intercepted the plane within minutes of its departure from Sea-Tac, but they were not involved in its crash near Ketron Island.
The sheriff's department said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the Pierce County resident, whose name was not immediately released.
Officials from Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air said they were still working closely with authorities as they investigate what happened. He used a pushback tractor to maneuver a Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft for take-off around 8 p.m. that night.
Officials said he 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.
Tesla shares fall 5 percent on Wall St scepticism, SEC probe reports
Mr Musk said in a tweet on Tuesday that he had secured financing for the deal, but he did not publicly provide further details. Tesla said on Wednesday the discussions had addressed the issue of how to fund such a deal, but gave no details.
Imran Khan apologises to poll body for casting his vote in open
Khan's PTI emerged as the single largest party with 116 seats, in the recently concluded National Assembly elections. The US Ambassador congratulated Imran Khan over the victory of his party in elections 2018.
Authorities Probe How 'Suicidal' Employee Could Steal Plane
Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane. The man was a resident of Pierce County, Wash., and "acted alone", the Pierce County Sheriff's Department tweeted .
"I was outside watering and heard the jets, saw the plane coming, and something told me to get my phone and record", said Leah Morse, who took a video of the plane tailed by jets flying over her house.
A "suicidal" airline employee at Seattle's Sea-Tac International Airport stole an empty plane Friday night for a weird joyride, performing unsafe air maneuvers under close pursuit by F-15 fighter jets before crashing into an island.
Russell, who had no experience piloting an aircraft, attempted stunts as he flew southwest from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The airline tells The Associated Press that the plane was a Horizon Air Q400 and it believed no passengers were on board.
The incident shut down Sea-Tac Airport but flights are returning to normal.
"That means I lift a lot of bags, like a lot of bags, so many bags", he says, adding, "it allows me to do some pretty cool things, too".
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West.
The job of a ground service agent includes directing aircraft for takeoff and gate approach, handling baggage and tidying and de-icing planes, CNN quoted authorities as saying.
"It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie", one witness said.