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Beebo Russell loved Jesus, craft beer, and cargo shorts

Beebo Russell loved Jesus, craft beer, and cargo shorts

Those who loved him describe him as compassionate, reliable, God-fearing, and goofy

Matt Scott was the FBI’s case agent for the investigation. He tells Rolling Stone that Russell’s “brazen” theft of the Q400 was hidden in plain sight on the busy tarmac. “There didn’t seem to be anything that was out of the ordinary – up until the last minute when he actually took it,” he says. The lone security guard in the area was attending to an arriving vehicle at a nearby entrance gate. And the report from the Port of Seattle, which runs Sea Tac, underscores that only Russell’s short sprint back to the moving airplane would have raised alarms. “Even if the guard . . . had witnessed these actions,” it reads, “the time frame was too short to have precluded the Horizon employee’s entry to the cabin of the aircraft.”

Back in the cockpit, Russell faced a confounding control panel. Far to his right, near the empty co-pilot’s seat, he slid up the levers for each of the propellers, producing a satisfying roar. A dark luck was with Russell. The wind was blowing from the south. Air traffic was unusually sparse. “The plane had direct and immediate access to a runway going the right direction for takeoff,” Wendy Reiter, director of aviation security for SeaTac, would later testify.

“I wasn’t really planning on landing it,” Russell told air-traffic control from the cockpit. ”I just wanna do a couple maneuvers – see what it can do before I put her down, ya know?”

The SeaTac tower spotted Russell on the taxiway and radioed down in the mechanical monotone of air-traffic control: “Aircraft on Charlie lining up runway 1-6-Center, say your call sign.” When Russell did not reply, the controller broke out of his professional rhythm, nearly shouting, “Who’s the Dash 8 holding on runway 1-6-Center?!”

An Alaska Airlines pilot cut in on the radio: “That aircraft is taking off rolling,” he warned. Were the brakes on? “His wheels are smoking left and right,” the pilot said, “just rolling down the runway.”

“I’m not even talking to him,” the controller spat. At 7:33 p.m., according to the FBI, the Q400 lifted off, soaring south toward Mount Rainier, the 14,500-foot, glacier-topped volcano looming over the Puget Sound. The Alaska Airlines pilot said to summon military jets. “You need to call and scramble, now.” The voice in the tower replied flatly, “We are.”

He was not the kind of man you’d peg for grand-theft airplane. He was raised in a military family with a reverence for fair play. A dedication from his family on his high school senior-yearbook page cites the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:5, which reads: “Whoever enters an athletic competition wins the prize only when playing by the rules.”

He attended the same high school as Sarah Palin, graduating in 2008, the year Palin was picked for the GOP ticket

Born in the Florida Keys and nicknamed Beebo as an infant, Russell was raised from boyhood in Wasilla, Alaska, outside Anchorage. Russell was a three-sport star for the Wasilla Warriors, placing fifth in the state in discus and fourth in wrestling, in the 215-pound category. He was a quiet leader, recording school athletes’ personal bests on their weight belts; his is still in the school gymnasium.

Russell was a brick of a young man, square-shouldered and stout with long, powerful arms. On the football field, he barreled for 327 yards, scoring six touchdowns as a standout senior fullback. He embraced contact and, according to friends and family, got his bell rung with some frequency. At the time, concern about football brain injury had yet to enter the mainstream; Alaska would not implement a concussion protocol for school sports until 2011.