Breaking for the gate

If you haven’t read or heard of him by now, then you must be out of Wi-Fi range.  On Friday, August 10, 2018, to be exact, Richard Russell started up a tractor at his place of work, the Seattle- Tacoma International Airport, and proceeded to drag out a Q400 twin-engine plane to an empty runway.  He never flew a plane before.

Without any formal training except playing video games, Russell took to the sky, alarming everyone who was aware of his limitations. After doing what officials said were “incredible maneuvers,” some including making the twin-engine turboprop spin long spirals over Puget Sound, his life unrolled out onto the national news stations at the same time. 

He told air traffic control that he was “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess, never really knew it until now...” They did their best to talk him down to earth, but like the attempted dash of a confined wild horse towards an open gate, Russell wanted to try to live free one last time. He dodged the lassos thrown.  

Horizon Air ground service agent Richard Russell’s one and only self-piloted flight made an impact not just in the news, but across all social media. They are calling him "Sky King." As loved ones also come forward with statements, his personal life is being reflected by their words; a nice guy, a loving husband, son, friend. A very fun and funny guy. Responsible. There were no horrible issues in his past, no abuse. How could he do this? How could he steal a plane for a joyride? 


While most called him suicidal during his flight, there are some, no, maybe more - writers, poets, artists, realists, fatalists- who say that Russell’s own persona was in that last act of flight. He is immortal now, captured in a human tragedy.  His memory will always be the guy who took to the skies knowing nothing but what he picked up along the way. Somewhat like how we feel at one time or another. Winging it. We understand. In a way, he was us. Didn’t we silently pray in our hearts hoping he would be okay in the end? “Run! Be free! Fly! But make it home safely..."

As humans, we live under pressure constantly. The pressure to perform day in and day out mundane tasks required if we want to live. The pressure to concede, to conform, to keep quiet, to be content while meanwhile dying little deaths by the moment, until we don’t even recognize ourselves at the end of the day. We are too tired. Until we see the gate is open.

We have all been there. Broken.  And most have had that moment, thinking wild thoughts, being desperate enough to almost do anything, something.  Unlike Russell though, most of us stop ourselves before harm. The truth is we never are really free. No one is. And that is okay. Maybe we have gotten help from others to accept this; perhaps we have gone through so much to see it ourselves. 

From living and loving, we have learned that being “outside” the gate really is the same as being “inside.” It’s just a different view.


Unfortunately last Friday, like the young Greek God Phaethon who desperately wanted to drive the golden chariot of the Sun, Russell crashed to the ground.  He didn't survive. He knew he wouldn’t. Knowing the truth, Russell broke for the gate anyway.

 He had to try one last time.


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  1. ...or Icarus. At least neither took anyone else out with them---if you don't count the family and friends who will be forever changed by the pain of his death.

  2. I, too, could understand his feelings!!

  3. Wow! What a post. Hold on… I’m going to read it again… you wrote this so well. Someone told me the other day that sometimes they feel like getting in their car and just driving and not stopping until they are far away. There were times that I used to feel that way too. When this person told me that, I was thinking how I haven’t felt that way in a long time. Maybe it’s because I do get away now. I think it’s something we all need. I didn’t hear about this tragic event. I am sorry that he didn’t get the help he needed before it was too late.


  4. I admit to (an uncomfortable) admiration for his final act - it was stylish, and took some cojones to pull off. Just super glad he didn't take anyone else out with him. Not convinced that was 100% within his control...


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