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Pilot who stole passenger plane and died has ties to North Dakota

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Richard Russell, identified as an airport worker who flew an empty plane that crashed into a sparsely populated island, was recruited to play football at Valley City State University.2 / 2

FARGO—The man who stole an airplane and crashed it on a sparsely populated island near Seattle on Friday, Aug. 10, was recruited to play football from Alaska for the Valley City State University Vikings in 2008.

Richard "Beebo" Russell, 29, was remembered by his coaches at Wasilla High School, where he was a football player, wrestler and discus thrower. They told the Anchorage Daily News that they were shocked when he was identified as the man who stole and crashed the empty commuter airline plane.

Russell's coaches described him as funny and a team player. He is listed on the roster of 39 players Valley City State University recruited to play football in 2008. Russell was listed as a fullback on the roster and played at least one season of football, according to the Anchorage Daily News report.

He later attended Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Authorities don't know why Russell, who is heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is "just a broken guy." His family described him as warm, kind and gentle.

The empty commuter plane was stolen from Sea-Tac International Airport. No one else was hurt in the crash, which remains under investigation