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Airborne Thieves Hit Smaller Fields

Leave something of value unattended for any length of time and, sure enough, someone will figure out a way to steal it.

This time the thieves are using airplanes, or at least that is the strong suspicion of officials trying to solve a string of thefts of airplane communication gear from smaller airports in Washington and Oregon.

“There is evidence to suggest they fly in and out under the cover of darkness,” according to Bill Brubaker, director of the Aeronautics Division of the state Department of Transportation.

So far, the thieves have taken “well over $100,000” worth of communication and navigation gear from Paine and Boeing fields, the Centralia Airport and Clark County’s Pearson Air Park and Evergreen Airport since Jan. 14.

Oregon officials also are investigating a series of similar thefts in Roseburg plus thefts reported in Newport and Gleneden Beach.

In Salem, Ray Costello, Northwest representative of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, calls the thefts organized and sophisticated: “They get into an aircraft and 10-15 minutes later $10,000-$15,000 worth of equipment is gone.”

The thefts may even be related to “hits” last summer at airports in Ocean Shores, Jefferson County; Bremerton; Tumwater in Thurston County; Ilwaco, Pacific County; the Blaine area, and Yakima, according to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Dave Thomas.

Thieves took $40,000 worth of equipment from four planes at the Jefferson County Airport in Port Townsend, Wash., in August, Thomas said.

It makes sense to Thomas that the thieves are airborne. People would trust a pilot more than a stranger in a car, and most of the airports involved are remote and unguarded at night, he said.

Jim Stiger, a Bellevue insurance adjuster who specializes in airplane claims, said he recently has handled $200,000 in theft claims.

Those losses are just for the insurance companies he represents, Stiger explained.

Stiger is convinced the thefts are being done by the same person or persons because the same brand of equipment is stolen.

During 1994, 86 aviation items, mostly radio equipment, were reported stolen in Washington, compared to 10 articles in 1993 and 22 in 1992. The items average “about $2,000 a pop,” said Robert Collins of the national Aviation Crime Prevention Institute.

In Oregon last year, 31 pieces of equipment were reported stolen, compared to 20 the year before, Collins said.