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Ventura County

Missing Plane Raises Questions

Aviation: The apparent theft of a small aircraft at Camarillo Airport comes amid new security measures and leaves officials puzzled.

July 06, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Authorities are still searching for a plane reported stolen from Camarillo Airport--and trying to determine how the theft could have happened, despite new security measures in place after Sept. 11.

The single-engine, four-passenger 1971 Cessna 182 was apparently stolen between Monday and 3 p.m. Wednesday. The aircraft is white with a horizontal forest-green stripe across the fuselage.

The plane's owner, John M. McClure of Oak Park, dropped it off for maintenance Monday. When he went to get it at about 3 p.m. Wednesday from the spot where it was usually tied down, he discovered it missing.

Authorities searched the airport, but were unable to locate the plane.

The FBI was notified of the apparent theft and is investigating, said Robert Mack, head of the FBI's Ventura County office. While Mack said he is not ruling out any motives, he thinks the plane probably was stolen for its parts, rather than for terrorist purposes.

The aircraft's description and tail number have been placed in the FBI's national crime database and on the Federal Aviation Administration's hot sheet.

It is unclear how the plane was stolen. Authorities have speculated that a thief may have copied a key or hot-wired the plane to start it, and they believe it was likely taken in the evening.

Camarillo Airport put additional security rules in place and tightened access to the airfield after Sept. 11, said Scott Smith, director of airports for Ventura County. "Theoretically, you'd have to be an airport user or an authorized person to gain entry," he said.

In addition, the airport has measures to restrict flying between midnight and 5 a.m., he said. Pilots must get permission if they wish to take off during the restricted time, and Camarillo Airport has 24-hour patrols of the airfield, Smith said.

Although no takeoff requests were made Monday or Tuesday, it is possible a plane could have taken off undetected either of those evenings, Smith said. Pilots of private aircraft are not required to file flight plans, and usually opt not to do so if they are traveling short distances. And the Camarillo control tower is closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., a practice common at smaller airports where most traffic occurs during the day, Smith said. As a result, someone could have taken off without any record of the flight.

Mack, who is also a pilot, said the plane could have been flown several hundred miles from the airport if it had a full tank of fuel. Once stolen, the plane could have been taken to a remote hangar, where it could be stripped for parts or its appearance disguised, Mack said.

McClure was not available for comment.

Theft of a plane is relatively uncommon, said Eric Nishimoto, a Ventura County Sheriff's Department spokesman. The Camarillo incident was the first plane theft he had heard of in his three years with the department.

Smith said airport officials plan to reexamine their operating procedures to look for ways to increase airfield security, in addition to continuing the 24-hour patrols already scheduled.

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