Man Steals Plane in Vegas, Flies to California

Airplane | Image by muratart/Shutterstock

An Idaho man allegedly took a single-engine aircraft for a joyride on Saturday, which resulted in his arrest.

Damian Zukaitis, 40, was taken into custody by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department after allegedly stealing the 2020 Kitfox airplane from a hangar in North Las Vegas. Zukaitis flew the aircraft over 100 miles to the small desert town of Daggett, where he landed without incident.

Authorities were not initially aware the plane was stolen and were alerted to the incident after seeing the pilot taxiing on a roadway near the landing strip. When authorities attempted to make contact with the man, he briefly fled on foot but was quickly arrested. Beer and alcohol were reportedly found in the plane. Authorities have yet to disclose what prompted the man to allegedly steal the plane, which was returned to its owner. The plane was valued at $80,000.

The plane’s owner, Jeff Cohn of North Las Vegas, received a call from Air Force Search and Rescue at about 6 p.m. local time on Saturday. The team had received an emergency signal, which typically alerts authorities to a plane crash, from his Kitfox. Cohn checked the hangar and discovered the plane missing.

The Federal Aviation Administration alerted the sheriff’s department that the plane had landed at Daggett Airfield outside Barstow, California. Zukaitis faces charges of bringing stolen property into the state and taking an aircraft without the owner’s consent. He likely will also face charges in Nevada for allegedly stealing the plane.

Zukaitis is reportedly believed to be responsible for a series of attempted aircraft thefts at the North Las Vegas field. Weston Prince, a pilot instructor who was in the air at the time, reportedly saw the Kitfox take off. Prince said he has had fuel stolen, equipment removed, and security cameras taken.

“We were coming into land, the plane took off kind of a little shaky on the radios,” Prince said, NBC 3 KSNV. “But immediately, as soon as it rotated off the runway, it completely veered off almost into the other runway and made a pretty big commotion. We were kind of like, ‘What the heck is wrong with this guy?'”

Thefts of aircraft are rare despite often lax security at many small airfields. Approximately 205,000 aircraft are privately owned in the United States, but the number of stolen planes is difficult to ascertain. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, stealing an aircraft is relatively simple, provided the person knows how to fly and is familiar with airport procedures. More common is the theft of aviation equipment such as radios and GPS units.

Officials are now looking to enhance security at the North Las Vegas Airport.

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