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Richard Russell is seen in an image from social media.
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Richard Russell is seen in an image from social media.

Pilot: I found Richard Russell in cockpit year before he stole plane at Sea-Tac Airport

An airline pilot says he confronted Horizon Air employee Richard Russell in the cockpit of an aircraft at Sea-Tac Airport a year before Russell stole another plane and crashed it.

The Seattle Times posted audio of the pilot's call to an emergency dispatcher in Pierce County the day after the Aug. 10 theft.

"Hey, this guy was in my cockpit on at least one occasion asking questions, wanting to watch me do my flows, which is a pre-flight preparation that I do before takeoff," Joel Monteith, a pilot for SkyWest Airlines, told the dispatcher.

Monteith said in the audio that he was suspicious when he later found Russell and another ground crew worker in the cockpit of a SkyWest plane.

“Looked like they were pointing and flipping maybe switches and what-not in the airplane and I went over and confronted them and I said, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing in here?’” Monteith told the dispatcher.

“He said that at that time they were just talking about how to turn on the APU so they could tow the airplane. I thought that was unusual.”

Monteith acknowledges in the audio that Horizon Air handles ground towing for SkyWest. And some ground crew workers are trained to be in the cockpit during towing when pilots are not there.

But Monteith said the incident indicates that the theft isn’t something that Russell “came up with overnight.”

“I think that maybe this guy had been thinking about doing this for a long time and then maybe the Q400 that he took was just an airplane of opportunity,” Monteith said in the audio posted by the Times.

Russell stole a twin-engine plane Bombardier Q400 owned by Horizon from Sea-Tac Airport and flew around Puget Sound for more than an hour before dying in a crash on Ketron Island, a remote island accessible by ferry in Pierce County.

Monteith told the Times that investigators haven’t contacted him about his report.