US aviation chiefs are struggling to work out how the ground crew worker who stole a plane at Seattle airport last week carried out a series of "incredible" loops and stunts before crashing off the coast of Seattle.
“I’ve played video games before and I know what I’m doing a little bit,” he told ground control before he crashed into Ketron Island off the coast of Seattle on Friday.
“Pilot guy, can this thing do a back flip, you think?” Mr Russell was also heard saying on the recording, before telling air traffic controllers he was going to try a “barrel roll” with the turboprop.
Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said in a news conference at the weekend that it did not appear Mr Russell had a pilot’s license, leaving the airline confused about how he managed to fly for about an hour before crashing.
The US authorities have described Mr Russell as suicidal. “I wasn’t really planning on landing it,” he was heard to tell air traffic controllers.
According to CNN, the FBI has recovered human remains and the black box recorder from the unscheduled flight. Nobody other than Mr Russell was on board.
“There were some manoeuvres that were done that were incredible manoeuvres,” Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden told CNBC News. “I don’t know how he achieved the experience that he did.”
Some believe it is possible video game simulators could have provided Mr Russell with just enough know-how.
“Yes, I believe that a civilian who has a thorough experience of flight simulation could indeed start, taxi and take off an aircraft with no real-world pilot experience,” Ryan Barclay, the founder and executive director of Fly Away Simulation told The New York Times.
Others remain sceptical. Rick Todd, president of the National Association of Flight Instructors, said: “It’s highly improbable, but not impossible, that he never had a lick of flying except other than in a virtual world.”
Mr Russell was followed by two military jets after taking the plane for the authorised flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly after 7.30pm.
Authorities are still investigating how he gained access to the aircraft.
“This is going to be a major learning event for the industry,” said CNN aviation analyst Justin Green. “This is a really big deal.”