Owner Believes Drug Runners Stole His Aircraft
Ten days after the theft of a 1966 Cessna 182,
N3199F, from a locked hangar in Marana, AZ, local
police report they still have no leads on who may have taken the
aircraft. In fact, the only evidence left behind by the thieves are
fingerprints lifted from a tow bar and the hangar door.
The aircraft's owner, Merle "Duane" Wetherbee, has his
suspicions on who may have taken his prized aircraft, though.
"It's a drug runners airplane of choice," said Wetherbee to the
Marana Northwest Explorer.
According to police reports of the crime, Wetherbee and pilot
Bill Thrown last saw the aircraft (file photo of TYPE -- similar to
the actual aircraft -- above) February 27, after fueling the
airplane for a planned business trip the next day and locking it in
That trip never took place. When Thrown arrived at the airport
at 7:30 am on February 28, he found the hangar door open, its
padlock gone... and the Skylane missing.
An instructor who arrived at the airport at around 6 am that
morning told police the pilot-operated runway lights were on when
he got there... and the FAA picked up an airplane, believed to be
Wetherbee's, beginning at approximately 5:50 am. The aircraft later
disappeared behind the Tucson mountains, before reappearing near an
airfield south of Tucson.
The aircraft dropped off radar about five miles north of the
border town of Nogales.
Officers have spoken
with a handful of people who were at the airport during the hours
the plane went missing. No one saw anything suspicious, they
The Marana Airport (AVQ) is home to more than 300 aircraft, and
is surrounded by an 8-foot-high fence accessible at three points.
Gates protect those areas, each accessible only with a code unique
to each gate. Owner-supplied padlocks guard the enclosed
"I have no idea how to make an airplane more secure," Wetherbee
said. "I'm pretty comfortable (saying) that it went to Mexico, and
will be used in some sort of illegal activity."
Airport officials say they'll soon be changing the access
While Marana, perhaps, offers a tantalizing location for
aircraft theft -- about 60 miles from the Mexico border, a
half-hour flight in a Skylane -- plane theft is hardly an epidemic
at the airport. Only one other plane has been stolen from
the airport in the past 10 years, according to current airport
director Charles Mangum.
Last year, a total of 11 aircraft were reported stolen in the
United States and Mexico, according to the Aviation Crime
Two of the 11, however, happened to be Cessna 182s stolen from
Despite the ongoing investigation by state and federal
officials, Wetherbee expects never to see his airplane again.
Furthermore, he only had partial insurance on the $120,000 plane.
Wetherbee says he expects to lose about $40,000 to $50,000 because
of the theft.
If you have any information on the theft, please call (520)