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Self-taught teen pilot may to be blame for stolen Cessna

Fri., Oct. 2, 2009, 6:18 p.m.

Patrick Gardiner's Cessna was stolen from Boundary County Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Courtesy of KHQ)
Patrick Gardiner's Cessna was stolen from Boundary County Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Courtesy of KHQ)

A teen who authorities think taught himself how to fly may be responsible for the theft of a pricey private plane from the Boundary County Airport this week.

A logger found the 2005 Cessna 182 turbo plane crashed in a clearing near Granite Falls in Western Washington on Thursday afternoon.

The FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security are scouring the area looking for the pilot who apparently walked away from the crash, which a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman described as “survivable.”

Authorities say the plane heist resembles two aircraft thefts in Western Washington that have been connected to Colton Harris-Moore, an 18-year-old serial burglar who escaped from a juvenile facility in April 2008.

“We still don’t know it’s that guy, but everything’s pointing to it,” said plane owner Patrick Gardiner.

Gardiner owns an Angus cattle farm in Bonners Ferry and used the plane to attend cattle sales. Investigators remained at the scene of the crash Friday with the plane, which Gardiner said was totaled.

The plane was worth about $340,000 and had about $200,000 in avionics aboard. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said that while some have speculated Harris-Moore may be responsible, he is not considered an official suspect. Boundary County Sheriff’s detective Dave McClelland said the only thing linking the teen to the crime is “method of operation.”

Harris-Moore, of Camano Island, has been the focus of a manhunt following a string of burglaries and thefts on the island and the San Juan Islands, according to The Seattle Times.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office is also looking into whether he was responsible for the thefts of two other small planes, the newspaper reported.

A construction crew spotted the Cessna flying south or southwest from the North Idaho airport early Tuesday.

Authorities think the same thief or thieves stole handguns, food and beer from the Creston, B.C airport about 30 miles from Bonners Ferry last week and tried stealing a Cessna plane similar to Gardiner’s.

Authorities found an abandoned stolen car on the Canadian side of the border after the break-ins, then another stolen car along Highway 2 near the Boundary County Airport. Officials say the airport had been broken into a night earlier before someone returned late Monday or early Tuesday for Gardiner’s Cessna.

The plane’s hangar had been burglarized in the previous break in, and someone tried prying the plane’s door open. Gardiner installed a large padlock on the hangar, but the culprit broke through.

Authorities found prints from bare feet in the area of the burglary, said airport office manager Jessica Short.

In the two earlier plane thefts, authorities say Harris-Moore stole a Cessna 182 from an Orcas Island hangar last November and flew it to Eastern Washington, where he made a “hard landing” on the Yakama Indian Reservation, according to The Seattle Times.

On Sept. 11, Harris-Moore allegedly stole an experimental aircraft from Friday Harbor and flew it to Orcas Island, where it, too, made a “hard landing,” The Times reported.

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