The 29-year-old hijacker was performing midair stunts over Puget Sound, an erratic flight pattern that seemed to mirror the loops and barrel rolls of his radio chatter.

He told the control tower he was “a broken guy” but a lot of people cared about him and he wanted to apologize. He asked the whereabouts of an orca whale and her dead calf. And he wondered — laughing — what would happen if he tried to do a “backflip” with the plane he had stolen from Seattle’s main airport.

When the control tower urged him to attempt to land the empty, 76-seat Bombardier Q400 belonging to his employer, Horizon Air, the man — identified by a law enforcement official as Richard Russell — worried about harm to others on the ground. Better to take a nose dive, he said, “and call it a night.”

The stunning heist of a large commercial airplane from a major U.S. airport Friday night took no other lives than the pilot’s, but the incident has heightened worries about gaps in American aviation security, forcing questions about how Russell, a baggage handler and grounds crew member, could take control of the aircraft, get it in the air and fly it willy-nilly over a major U.S. metropolitan area for nearly an hour.

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