Richard Russell may go down as perhaps the most innovative, eccentric, captivating and thought-provoking suicide of our time.
Russell, a 3.5-year employee of Alaska Air, stole a 76-passenger Bombardier Q400 twin engine turbo-prop plane, towing it out from maintenance to the SeaTac runway, going unnoticed by air traffic control. Russell climbed into the cockpit, fired up the engines and flew right out of SeaTac airport into the wild blue yonder — and beyond.
Richard Russell is described by his family as a compassionate man, a faithful husband, a loving son, and a good friend. He’d passed all employment background checks and wrote on public media of building a promising life for him and his wife.
But something snapped, and Russell decided to end his life – in spectacular fashion. He’d steal a commercial plane and drive it into the ground.
Along the way, Russell electrified Seattle as he performed loops, barrel rolls, and inverted flight over the Puget Sound. Controllers tried to calmly talk him down, but Russell indicated, “not today.” He asked forgiveness of his friends and family who would be so disappointed in him. He explained he was “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”
And shortly thereafter, Richard Russell crashed Horizon Air’s Q400 into Ketron Island, immolating himself and the plane in the process.
Russell’s is an American suicide that will go down in both aviation and American suicide history books forever. He is our decade’s suicide poster-boy, but he’s far from alone:
American suicide is a full-on growth industry. Suicides have risen overall 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. For folks in the high-stress ages of 45-65, that rate has risen a whopping 50 percent! The 2008 financial crash tore through finances – and also through souls. To date, most Americans still have not made up their losses or forgotten the anguish. It’s a lingering torture for many, and between money and all the difficulties of modern American life, we’re killing ourselves at record rates.
Forty-five thousand Americans commit suicide every year — about 123 each day, or 13.5 per 100,000 per year. Guns are the quick and easy preferred method for impulsive self-extermination, used for about 51 percent of all suicides. But we’re not constrained by one easy method – we kill ourselves by car, by drugs, by asphyxiation, by jumping. I sadly had a friend who did it by chop saw. And now – death by Bombardier A400, dramatically staged in front of an entire city and country.
Meanwhile, amidst all this truly tragic suicidal carnage, we’re also accidentally killing ourselves with opiate overdoses at an even higher number – about 72,000 OD’s per year.
These incredible numbers make our shocking murder rate seem innocuous. “Only” 17,700 murders per year, again, almost all with guns. We’re “only” world-average murders, pretty much tied with Kenya, Zambia, Angola, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. There’s a ray of good news for white people: Murders in American occur overwhelmingly in generationally impoverished black communities, while here in whitish and successful SCV we’re among the world’s safest with 0.6 murders per 100,000. Can you imagine the stress and hellishness being born into neighborhoods with 40 times our murder rate?
Unlike murder, SCV isn’t similarly inoculated from opiate deaths and suicide. No. These societal demons cut across all races, geography, and economic status. OD’s and suicides are here too, right in “River City.”
Plainly, “Something is rotten in the state of America.”
Amidst all our economic power, military supremacy, innovation — and self-deception in “American Exceptionalism” — we’ve also become world-class exceptionalists in suicide, drug abuse, murder and by a wide margin, in incarceration. We’re also the advanced-nation leader in entrenched poverty and poor health care results.
This is not a partisan rant or slant. This is not beating up on America. These are facts on the ground in America. Facts that we need to face. Not “fake news.” Facts that nearly every one of us, even in our cloistered SCV, have experienced firsthand with friends and family.
Something is wildly amiss in our post-Iraq I and II, post-2nd Greatest Economic Dislocation Recession of 2008. Most Americans have experienced sustained, real economic loss since 1980 – they’re “not getting ahead” like their parents did. From skyrocketing and exploitative student loans, to mid-life job security worries and job loss from off-shoring, computers, robots and eager millennials elbowing in – there’s a lot of stress out there.
Yet, our own national government is hard at work dismantling anything that even approached universal health care, a life-benefit that’s taken for granted in every other developed country – (most all with much lower suicide, abuse and murder rates.) And other “safety net” benefits are poised for trimming on the chopping block.
So, what’s on top on the list we see from the White House and Congress?
A $30 billion Mexico wall.
Economic wars with China, Canada, and Turkey.
Tweets villainizing kneeling NFL players.
Omarosa called “a dog” by our sitting president.
For many — perhaps most — Americans, it seems no one is really listening to the concerns about the quality of on-the-ground American life. We’re ignoring the very real despair, the real worry, the real grinding, “harder than it has to be or should be” for so many aspects of life for so many Americans in such an otherwise rich country.
America’s key stressors?
Access to quality medical care without breaking bank accounts
Access to quality college education without back-breaking student debt
Combatting social dislocation, isolation and loneliness
Creating great economic equality
Easing stress through improved infrastructure
In a modern, 2018, ultra-connected, ultra-competitive, super-fast-changing world, it’s right for our government, which we pay for with our own taxes, to direct efforts specifically at improving quality of life for its citizens. Perhaps a tad more “humanism” and a tad less slavish worship of “capitalism.” We can care more for our humans while still caring enough about our capital, too.
These matters of literal life and death — and quality of life — should be forefront in the coming elections. Who will have your back? Who will create whatever positive change capable of being changed? Who will finally create solid, life-improving solutions for so many Americans needing them?
It’s estimated 80 percent of Americans will experience mental health problems. All will incur health problems. Most will encounter employment challenges. Most face educational financing challenges. So, what are we going to do about it? Is “Space Force” the answer to your concerns?
Richard Russell, extravagantly committing suicide over the Puget Sound skies is one giant Big-Screen production highlighting the social breakdown in America. Like the shootings in Vegas and Sandy Hook, this one stands out and reminds us: We’ve got to do better.
We’ve got to do America better, a lot better, right here at home.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.