Sprowston pilot left devastated after becoming the latest victim of gang targeting aircraft in East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 08:38 26 January 2017 | UPDATED: 14:23 26 January 2017

The aircraft after the thieves struck. Picture: Nick Harper

The aircraft after the thieves struck. Picture: Nick Harper

Nick Harper

The hunt is on today for a prolific gang that is stealing aircraft engines from hobby pilots across the region.

Nick Harper. Picture: Nick HarperNick Harper. Picture: Nick Harper

In the latest case, a Norfolk man had his plane taken apart by the thieves, who caused £40,000 of damage.

Nick Harper said the engine, propeller and instruments were stolen from his microlight on Sunday night while it was stored in a remote hangar, near Needham.

The 57-year-old, from Sprowston, said £40,000 was the likely bill for replacement of parts and a refit.

According to the British Microlight Aircraft Association, it is the latest in a string of thefts across the country targeting aircraft engines.

Inside the cockpit with the instruments removed Picture: Nick HarperInside the cockpit with the instruments removed Picture: Nick Harper

The organisation said there had been at least 10 known cases in the past year, with the majority taking place in the East of England.

Mr Harper, who works as a self-employed mechanic in Norwich, is now warning other aircraft owners to ensure their hangars are secure.

He said: “I was devastated when I saw what they had done to be quite honest. I work hard for this hobby and now someone has taken it all away.

“It is all insured, so in the long run it won’t cost me, but there is a mental cost, because you know what these people have done.”

The thieves stole a Rotax 912 four-stroke engine and propeller from the front of Mr Harper’s Pegasus CTSW ultralight aircraft.

Mr Harper, who has held a pilot’s licence for 17 years, said he bought it in 2009 and flew it almost every weekend.

He had been at the airstrip earlier on the Sunday to carry out some work, and had put the aircraft back in its hangar before leaving.

But on Monday he was contacted to say that someone had got into the hangar overnight by removing some of the building’s metal sheeting.

Mr Harper said the thieves must have “jemmied” open the door to the cockpit, before unbolting the instruments.

The father-of-three believed it would have taken them another hour to remove the engine and propeller.

He added: “People need to be vigilant, because these people don’t give a damn.”

A police spokesman said the force was investigating the incident, which happened between 3pm on January 22 and 4pm on January 23.

Witnesses should call police in Diss on 101.

Other thefts

There has been at least 13 other thefts reported to the British Microlight Aircraft Association since 2009.

Incidents reported last year include:

February 18, 2016 – Newnham, Hertfordshire.

May 8, 2016 – Hunsdon Airfield, Hertfordshire.

July 8, 2016 – Boughton south, near Downham Market.

August 15, 2016 – Holmbeck Farm Airfield, Leighton Buzzard.

August 16, 2016 – twice from Holmbeck Farm Airfield, Leighton Buzzard.

September 30, 2016 – Fenland Airfield, Lincolnshire.

September 19 to 23, 2016 – Benwick Airfield, Cambridgeshire.

September 26 to 27, 2016 – Audley End Airfield, Essex.

September 29 to 30, 2016 – Fenland Airfield, Lincolnshire.

According to the organisation’s chief executive, Geoff Weighell, the majority involved the theft of four-stroke Rotax engines. It is believed they are taken over to Europe.

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