VANCOUVER -- As Vancouver police investigate a bizarre incident that saw a man commandeer a floatplane, veteran pilots say the man is lucky he didn’t manage to get the aircraft off the water.

Police say they received calls about a man trying to steal a Seair floatplane and running away from the Vancouver Habour Flight Centre around 3:30 a.m. Friday.

"Police arrived, weren't able to locate the suspect and did notice about three aircraft were damaged," said Const. Tania Visintin. “He didn't make it airborne, remaining taxiing in the water when he then collided into another plane.”

The intruder was operating the aircraft fast enough that he sheared off one wing of the Seair floatplane and badly damaged the tail and one wing of a Harbour Air seaplane, with relatively minor damage to another aircraft.

Both companies briefly re-routed morning travellers to their South Terminal operations at YVR before resuming normal operations later in the morning.

The two companies declined interview requests from CTV News on Friday and instead offered similar written statements with the basic information provided by police.

“We are currently working with the police to provide any support required during this investigation,” wrote Harbour Air.

“At this time, our focus is in supporting the police as they understand the investigation,” wrote Seair through a public relations company.

A communications staffer for Transport Canada said the agency is still looking into the incident, noting “water aerodrome operators are responsible for their own security measures.”

The Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre says the gates to the docks where the floatplanes are accessed are always locked and that they’re still investigating how the intruder got in.

“We have a number of proactive security measures in place 24/7 however, for public safety reasons, we cannot disclose specific details pertaining to our security and safety measures,” they said in a statement.

Pilots weigh in

CTV News spoke with several veteran pilots on the incident, who unanimously agreed the suspect is lucky he didn’t manage to launch the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.

They have little doubt that was his intention, and note while aircraft can be relatively simple to get off the water, landing them is much more difficult. In the words of one aviator, trying to land a floatplane safely at night, without any lights, would’ve been “a suicide mission."

The Transportation Safety Board told CTV News it's aware of the incident but hasn’t yet launched an investigation as it doesn’t typically get involved in such cases unless it appears the attempted theft also includes an attempt to fly the aircraft.

While Vancouver police say they can’t make that connection until they find a suspect and interview him, pilots have little doubt flying the aircraft was the man’s intent.

They say they case instantly reminded them an infamous example of airplane theft near Seattle in August 2018, when a Sea-Tac employee stole an aircraft for an hour-long joyride before fatally smashing into a small island in Puget Sound.

The suspect

There are numerous security cameras in the area that appear trained on the numerous float planes from three companies tied up at the floating dock in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour.

Police are scrutinizing footage from those cameras but won’t say if the images are clear enough to identify the man at the controls, who they believe was acting alone.

They haven’t released a suspect description at this point, but the aviation community will be watching closely to see what motivated the bizarre hit-and-run on the water — with theories ranging from drunken prank to social media stunt, to mental health episode or even something more sinister.