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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 14, 2014
Vandals hit Stonington airport, could prompt federal investigation

by Rich Hewitt

Vandals caused some damage to the airport last week, an incident that could trigger a federal investigation.

Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris told selectmen on August 11 that there had been some vandalism at the airport. It appears that the culprits went into the airport building the night of August 7 and caused damage to the chemical toilet there. One of the concrete tie-downs for the planes is missing and they also removed the windsock, which was recovered.

“They had to climb the pole to get the windsock down,” Billings-Pezaris said.

The wind sock is important, she said, because the pilots use it to determine which direction to approach the landing strip. Fortunately, she said, the wind sock was not damaged, so they were able to replace it.

More troubling, however, is that there is some indication that the vandals may have tampered with the gas tank on one of the planes.

“We found a beer can on the wing of one of the planes and it looked like the gas cap on the plane had been tampered with,” Billings-Pezaris said.

There was concern that someone may have tried to siphon gasoline from the tank, or worse, poured beer into the gas tank. If someone had poured something into the gas tank, she said, it could have created a very dangerous situation for the pilot and passengers if it had gone undetected.

“They could have crashed,” she said.

The owner has checked the plane and it did not appear that any fuel was missing. He also ran the engine for a while and did not find any problems with the engine or the gas, Billings-Pezaris said.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the vandalism at the airport and is processing some evidence that was recovered from the scene. Tampering with an aircraft, however, is a federal matter, she said.

“I called the FAA and the guy there said that tampering with an aircraft involves an FBI investigation,” she said. “This is a serious offense. It’s not Hancock County putting you in a cruiser. If you’re caught, you’re going to Portland.”

In this age of terrorism, federal authorities take potential threats to aircraft as a very serious matter, she said. The airport displays a number of signs warning against trespassing and tampering with aircraft. While it appears nothing was put into the tank, Billings-Pezaris said she did not know if the act of messing with the gas cap was enough to trigger a federal investigation. The FAA will review the results of the local investigation and determine whether to involve the FBI, she said.