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Who's behind Vancouver's seaplane theft? Police release suspect photos, description
Published Wednesday, February 26, 2020 8:50AM PST Last Updated Thursday, February 27, 2020 11:43AM PST
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver police have released surveillance images of their prime suspect in a float plane theft, and while they say the motivation is still unclear, they’re acknowledging the possibility the thief intended to use the aircraft to harm others.
Police released surveillance images Wednesday in an effort to identify a man they believe is tied to the theft of a Seair floatplane and the damage of two Harbour Air planes early Friday morning.
"After breaking into the terminal, the male suspect broke into one of the seaplanes," said Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin. "He managed to start the plane but was unsuccessful in taking off.”
Instead, he crashed the plane into several others docked at the Coal Harbour terminal. He was going fast enough to sheer off the wing of the Seair plane and smash the wing of a Harbour Air seaplane nearly in half, damaging the tail on that plane and causing minor damage to another aircraft.
"Investigators do believe the suspect is familiar with the mechanics of a plane and are urging members of the aviation community and the public to contact police if they recognize the suspect or have any information,” said Visintin.
Five days after the bizarre incident, Vancouver police turned to the public for help to identify a man they believed to be connected to the case. He's described as white, in his 40s and about 5'10". Police say he has an average build and short brown hair, with a "slightly receding hairline." He was clean shaven at the time, and wearing a long-sleeved zip-up sweater, dark pants and dress shoes.
They say he has a "pronounced brow ridge."
In one of the surveillance videos provided to journalists time stamped 1:52, the suspect is walking casually down a sidewalk and kicking a piece of garbage. By 3:29, cameras on the dock captured the same man trying and failing to open several doors while carrying some clothing; he appears to be soaking wet at this point.
Vancouver police couldn’t say whether that latter video was before or after the aircraft was stolen and abandoned.
Aviators concerned about intent
CTV News Vancouver has spoken with several veteran aviators and officials in law enforcement who have concerns about the thief’s intentions with the aircraft. Float planes aren’t designed to be flown at night and landing them safely has been described as extremely difficult or even impossible.
“The minute I saw this story I was concerned,” said aviation journalist and experienced pilot Mark Miller. “What was his plan? It's very difficult to land a float plane in the dark on the water, it's very dangerous. Was this guy planning on doing something with the airplane?”
Miller and others have referenced other rare cases where distraught people have commandeered aircraft. A recent one near Seattle saw the thief fatally crash the aircraft on a nearby island.
The idea that someone could break into a secured facility and start an aircraft raises alarm bells for Miller.
“I hope [police] are treating it with all the seriousness it deserves,” he said. “It's very concerning to have an airplane [taken] that has gas in it, that could do damage, that people could get hurt in a densely-populated downtown area. I think everyone is starting to think about the potential here."
"We are treating this scenario very seriously,” Visintin said. “We don't have the exact motive ... but we're keeping all avenues open."
Both Harbour Air and Seair declined requests for interviews from CTV News and Transport Canada has not replied to an updated request for information on what role it could play in the investigation. The Transportation Safety Board says the incident is outside its mandate.