Tires on 80-plus planes slashed at Merrill Field
Updated at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 2
More than 80 planes had their tires slashed, amounting to hundreds of tires, overnight at Merrill Field airport.
Paul Bowers, airport manager at Merrill Field, says he believes the incident occurred between 1:30 and 6 Thursday morning.
Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said in an email that police were notified after 9 a.m. Thursday from a person who said their plane had “been vandalized at the Merrill Field Airport and the main wheels had been slashed.”
Management at Merrill Field also reached out to APD, Castro wrote, and said that initial counts approximated 87 aircraft had their tires flattened. The airport was working to notify the registered owners of the planes so they can file an online report.
Bowers said he’s never seen anything like it.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I’ve never heard of this level of vandalism ever, at any airport, anywhere,” he said.
He told KTVA that someone made their way into the secure part of the airport and slashed the tires overnight, but that the planes in the open part of the airport weren’t damaged.
“Any vandalism on the field is a concern,” Bowers said. “It’s particularly disconcerting that there’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
Merrill Field is a municipal airport, so the vandalism is considered a municipal crime, Bowers explained. However, he said the Federal Aviation Administration will be involved.
All of the damaged planes are owned by private pilots, according to Bowers. He said he doesn’t know whether any of the planes were used for business.
“We just simply haven’t had a problem like this, and we shouldn’t have had. But we did,” Bowers said.
He said last fall the airport started a $5-million project that includes upgrading analog cameras, fences, gate operator systems, as well as adding additional digital cameras. He said this is a multi-year process and is not complete.
“I don’t know that it would have made a difference, in retrospect,” Bowers said. “Merrill Field is as well surveilled, camera wise, as any [general aviation] airport in the state.
The planes were equipped with three tundra tires, big low-pressure tires that allow planes to travel on rough terrain, which cost between $1,000 and $2,000 each. In total, Bowers estimated the cost of the damage at $100,000 to $200,000.
A local company called Airframes Alaska, makers of the Alaskan Bushwheel, offered to give pilots discounted replacements for their damaged parts.
However, they announced on Facebook they were out of several sizes and now have a waiting list.
Heather Montgomery, Airframes Alaska chief operating officer, said the business ran out of three main tire sizes — 35-inch lightweight, 31-inch Bushwheels and 29-inch Bushwheels. Montgomery stated they have reworked their production schedule to get more tires made as soon as possible.
Bowers and Castro said police are investigating the incident and ask victims of the vandalism to file a complaint. It can be filed on APD’s website with the case number 16.22850.
Finn Lunoe had the tires slashed on two planes — a Piper 12 he flies and a Super Cub he shares with his son. He says when he arrived at Merrill Field he noticed the wings of his plane were tilted a little bit.
“Sometimes you get tire leaks, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I start to look closer and I could see there was stab damage in the tire,” he said. Looking around, he noticed all the other planes on the gravel strip had flat tires.
“Course you were shocked,” said Lunoe. “For me, it’s a thoroughly depressing site to see all these planes and it’s a lot of money.”
Lunoe was lucky — he got to the airport early and was able to buy replacement tires for both planes for about $6,000.
He says he never used to be concerned about the security at Merrill Field, but he is now — especially after paying for new sets of tires.
“What if I put my new tires on now? Do I have to camp out here to guard it?” Lunoe asked.
He said he might do just that.
Anyone with information on the incident is being urged to call Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-786-8900.
KTVA’s Bonney Bowman and Jessica Stugelmayer contributed to this report.