Local News

Thief sought after stolen plane crashes near Graham

Posted August 16, 2011
Updated August 17, 2011

— The search continued Wednesday for a man authorities believe stole a single-engine plane from Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill before crashing into a grove of trees about 25 miles away in Alamance County Tuesday.

Investigators did not release the suspect's name, but Sheriff Terry Johnson said two K-9 units followed his track out of the woods, then lost it.

Blood was found in the cockpit, leading authorities to believe that they are looking for an injured man, Johnson said. It wasn't clear whether there were any passengers on the plane.

The search began around 7 a.m. Tuesday when an emergency beacon alerted the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer service of the U.S. Air Force, to a plane in trouble. The plane was later found off Wildlife Club Road near N.C. Highway 87 around 12:15 p.m.

Plane thief search Search is on for plane thief after crash

Johnson said the crash might have happened because the pilot didn't know how to switch gas tanks – one of which was empty – on the aircraft, and it ran out of fuel.

Authorities believe the Piper PA-32R-301T, which is registered to Hillsborough businessman Larry Warren, was stolen sometime between 9 p.m. Monday, when Warren left it at the airport, and 6 a.m. Tuesday. Airport employees are only on site from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Warren said he checked the instrument panel at the crash scene and determined that whoever stole the plane flew for nearly two hours before crashing.

"I record the hours when I get in it and when I get out of it, and it looked like he had flown for 1.9 hours somewhere," Warren said. "I don't know if he was flying around (or) if he went somewhere and was coming back."

He also said that the plane would have easily started up for a thief, once he had broken into it.

Randy Young, a public safety spokesman for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which runs Horace Williams Airport, said this is the first time a plane has ever been stolen there. He said the airport is secure. 

UNC looks at airport security after plane theft Experts look at UNC airport security after plane theft

"Because the airport is on UNC property, there is a certain level of security. We do patrols there as we do on the contiguous campus and fringe areas," Young said.

Vehicles can only get in with a security code through a locked gate, but pedestrians have open access to the lots where small, private planes are parked, Young said.

Aviation attorney James Crouse said the security at Horace Williams is the norm for small facilities. He said it surprises him that planes, with their lightweight doors and windows and lack of heavy locks, are not stolen more frequently.

"The aircraft itself is ripe for being broken into," Crouse said. "Aircraft are not made to be secure; they are meant to fly in the air."


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  • frosty Aug 17, 2011

    Interesting that once again the news media has taken the low road trying to sensationalize the story to make it one about security.

    Implying (to me) that small airports and aircraft owners are endangering the public by not chaining the planes to the ground and requiring everybody to go though a TSA style screening just to get to a small plane.

    Small planes can be made harder to steal (as can your car) but generally there isn't much need. You need to be a pilot to fly one, they are not that may places they can go, and they generally don't carry enough to make them useful for smuggling or a terrorist attack. So I don't see much of a risk.

    As for keeping the tanks full to prevent condensation, not a bad idea if you are not going to fly it for a while. But if you are not going to need full tanks you don't need to fill them. Also the plane may have been parked after the fueling people had gone home for the evening.

    Interesting to see what develops. At least WRAL is staying on the story.

  • dontbringdownthemonk Aug 17, 2011

    Did Colt Harris-Moore post bail?

  • disturbedrod Aug 17, 2011

    lol, so many pilots and detectives in North Carolina, I don;t know why is taking so long to catch the thief and find out the real reasons of the accident.

  • dontbringdownthemonk Aug 17, 2011

    Fly it like you stole it

  • nascarguy Aug 17, 2011

    I'd bet the owner has an idea who it could be. The article suggests the authorities are pretty confident who their looking for.

  • BubbaDuke Aug 17, 2011

    Probably played a lot of flight simulator games and thought he could fly the real thing....or he spent the night at Holiday Inn Express.

  • NomoreKoolaid Aug 17, 2011

    Pretty sure it was just a harmless "Flash Mob " that tossed it in the woods.

  • quikdraw2 Aug 17, 2011

    silly - a stunt for attention?? maybe a hint about the security of the airport???? just silly.....

  • wineandheels Aug 17, 2011

    I think it was an inside job, considering he is so far in debt! *Note the first thing he mentioned was the value of the plane* insurance $ is what he is after

  • gopack07 Aug 17, 2011

    "Investigators know who it is but not releasing name? If not, how do they know it was a man, the K9 team can discern male smell and alert handlers such?"

    My thoughts, exactly! Could have been a woman and now everyone is looking for a man...lol.