No suspects, no motive so far in investigation of airplane tire slashings

Published: Jun. 2, 2016 at 10:45 AM AKDT
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Anchorage police say they have not identified a suspect or suspects and do not know the motive in the Thursday vandalism spree that damaged 87 planes at Merrill Field. Expensive tires on the small planes were slashed.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said Anchorage police are also not sure yet if more than one person was involved in the crime which occurred sometime between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Thursday.

FBI spokesman Richard VanVeldhuisen said his agency has not been asked to assist in the investigation.

Anchorage police have asked businesses along E 15th Avenue and Debarr Road to check their surveillance video from midnight to 5 a.m. on Thursday to see if it captured anyone on foot during that time. Asked if the police review of Merrill Field’s security footage or that of nearby businesses has yielded any leads, Castro said police “will not discuss evidence in the case at this time.”

Bob Thompson, an Anchorage aviation artist, said pilots who were not affected by the vandalism are donating plane tires to help those hit by the vandals.

Thompson created a Facebook group, Alaska Aviator’s Resource, so people can share information. There’s also a

for those who want to donate money.

Thompson described the nature and scope of the crime as “mindboggling.”

“It’s over a half-a-mile expanse” of the airport that the vandals hit, he noted.


Anchorage police have released new details on the vandalism that struck Merrill Field in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police say an unknown number of suspects on foot gained access through the southside of the airport. The vandalism is believed to have taken place between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. this morning, the department said.

Investigators are asking businesses along East 15th Avenue and Debarr Road near the airport to check their surveillance cameras for footage that may have captured those responsible for the crimes. Anyone with information that could be of use is asked to contact APD at 786-8900.

Police also say a cash reward is being offered for information submitted anonymously through crimestoppers that leads to an arrest.


An airport manager says some 87 planes have been vandalized at Merrill Field, with the main tires slashed. That's more than one-tenth of the 850 or so aircraft stationed at the airport with the resulting damage estimated at $150,000 and $200,000, said airport manager Paul Bowers.

Workers doing early-morning field checks noticed the tie-down lines of some planes were slack. When they got closer, they noticed that the tires on several dozen planes had been punctured. Anchorage police were notified shortly afterward, at around 6:30 a.m., Bowers said.

"I've never seen vandalism like this in more than 30 years of airport management," he said. "It's outrageous."

Owners of the vandalized planes have been notified. Anchorage police are reviewing surveillance video of the airport to try to identify a suspect.

Whoever committed the vandalism likely drove onto the airport and jumped a fence to get to the aircraft. The crime comes as Merrill Field is undergoing a $5-million security upgrade that will bring more cameras to the airport and tighter security to the 30 or more access gates, Bowers said.

The vandalism has no doubt inconvenienced pilots who were expecting to travel today or over the weekend. Bowers said he's heard from one charter operator who was expecting to fly passengers on a halibut fishing trip on the Kenai.

"He's not happy," Bowers said.

A pair of small airplane tires can run between $3,500 and $4,000, he noted.

"I've never seen anything like this. This is a showstopper because there's commercial operators, there's private planes, and these guys are down until the tires get replaced," said Davee Bronson, a pilot who was at Merrill Field late Thursday morning.

Bronson said he's had a plane at Merrill Field for 25 years. Owning a small plane in Alaska is kind of like having a pickup truck.

"This is how we hunt and fish," he said. "If this happened in the middle of the winter it would be far less egregious because you have time to recover and you could order tires."

Although his plane wasn't affected, Bronson said the fact that the vandalism happened at the start of the busy summer flying season makes the crime hit closer to home.

A company that makes aircraft tires for small airplanes says her Chugiak-based business has been inundated with requests from pilots whose planes were vandalized at Anchorage's Merrill Field airport overnight.

Heather Montgomery is chief operating officer of Airframes Alaska, which makes a variety of handcrafted airplane tires including a popular one called the Alaskan Bushwheel. Many of the 87 planes estimated to have been vandalized at Merrill Field had those type of tires slashed, Montgomery said.

"They’re critical to being able to land on beaches or other places where you don’t have a standard airstrip," she said.

Montgomery said she's adjusted her production schedule to meet demand. 

"We're already all out of a couple of sizes," she said.

Airframes Alaska operates a retail location at Merrill Field, Reeve Air Motive, which also sells airplane parts. 

Pilots started showing up as soon as the shop opened its doors at 8 a.m. looking for new tires.

"The pilots are incredibly upset. We're incredibly upset," Montgomery said.

The business is offering 20-percent discounts on tires to pilots whose planes were affected by the vandalism, she said.