Thieves with wings are suspected in a string of thefts of airplane communication gear from small airports in Washington and Oregon.
The thieves apparently are using airplanes to make their entry and getaway, authorities say.
“There is evidence to suggest they fly in and out under the cover of darkness,” said Bill Brubaker, director of the Aeronautics Division of the state Department of Transportation.
Since Jan. 14, “well over $100,000” worth of communication and navigation gear have been stolen from Paine and Boeing fields in Everett and Seattle, the Centralia Airport, and Clark County’s Pearson Air Park and Evergreen Airport.
Similar thefts have been reported in Roseburg, Newport and Gleneden Beach in Oregon.
No arrests have been made.
In Salem, Ore., Ray Costello, Northwest representative of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said the thefts are organized and sophisticated.
“They get into an aircraft and 10-15 minutes later $10,000-$15,000 worth of equipment is gone,” Costello said.
The Aeronautics Division has alerted airports throughout Washington about the crimes.
The thefts may be related to “hits” last summer at airports in Ocean Shores, Grays Harbor County; Port Townsend, Jefferson County; Bremerton, Kitsap County; Tumwater, Thurston County; Ilwaco, Pacific County; the Blaine area near the Canadian border; and Yakima, according to Jefferson County sheriff’s detective Dave Thomas.
About $40,000 worth of equipment was stolen from four planes at the Jefferson County Airport in Port Townsend in August, Thomas said.
Most of the airports involved are remote and unguarded at night, Thomas said.
Jim Stiger, a Bellevue insurance adjuster who specializes in airplane claims, said he recently has handled $200,000 in theft claims in Washington and Roseburg, Ore.
The thefts involve the same brand of equipment, Bendix-King, leading Stiger to suspect one party is responsible.
“The method and what they do is all similar,” agreed Thomas.
In 1994, 86 aviation items, mostly radio equipment, were reported stolen in Washington, compared with 10 articles in 1993 and 22 in 1992, according to Robert Collins of the national Aviation Crime Prevention Institute.
In Oregon, 31 pieces of equipment were reported stolen last year, compared with 20 the year before, Collins said.