Authorities ID suspect in stolen plane crash

Curtis Mellott (Image courtesy Orange County Sheriff's Office)
August 18, 2011 9:37:03 AM PDT
Authorities are searching for a man believed to be the pilot involved in a stolen plane crash.

Police are on the hunt for 46-year-old Curtis Mellott of Chapel Hill. They say he is the suspect who stole and later crashed a Piper PA32 in a field near Graham.

The Civil Air Patrol found the plane by following the aircraft's beeping transponder. Just before noon, the crew located the plane on Wildlife Club Road off N.C. 87 between Graham and the Eli Whitney community.

"I've seen a lot of planes go down but not a stolen one," Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said.

When authorities arrived on the scene, they found a lot of blood in the cockpit but no pilot. The window was kicked out, and there was a trail of blood leading into the forest.

The sheriff's office used bloodhounds to assist in the search for the pilot.

"We tracked all the way out, which is several miles through the woods here to Highway 87 and Snow Camp Road," Johnson said.

The sheriff believes someone may have picked up the injured pilot.

The plane is registered to LFW Investments LLC. in Hillsborough, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. UNC and Hillsborough police say the plane was stolen from Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill.

Johnson says the plane was stolen from UNC's airfield overnight Monday or early Tuesday morning. The plane's owner, Larry Warren, says he saw the aircraft around 9 p.m. Monday on the ground with its doors locked.

"You gotta have a key to get in the door, but once you get in the door, it's pretty much just regular switches," Warren said.

He says he has no idea why or how someone took his plane.

"I'm mad as hell," Warren said at the crash site Tuesday. "That's like half-a-million dollars sitting there out of my pocket."

Warren and authorities say it's remarkable someone walked away from the wreckage.

"I've never seen a plane damaged this much and have someone walk away like this," Sheriff Johnson said.

Authorities are also wondering why there isn't a trail of damage. There are no broken trees behind the plane or torn bushes.

"It didn't come straight down, I can tell you that," Warren explained.

Authorities issued an outstanding warrant for Mellott Wednesday. He is charged with larceny in Orange County and possession of stolen goods in Alamance.

On Thursday, a company from Georgia started removing the plane from the crash site, which is about 30 yards into a thick wooded area.

The National Transportation and Safety Board is not getting involved in the incident, because it's a criminal investigation.

Authorities are asking anyone with information about Mellott's whereabouts to call police.

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