NASSAU, Bahamas - Police were hunting across a tourist island Tuesday for signs of a pilot who vanished after wrecking a small plane in the Bahamas and investigators in the U.S. turned their suspicions toward a fugitive American teenager dubbed "the Barefoot Bandit."
The single-engine Cessna that crashed in shallow waters off Abaco island was apparently stolen more than 1,000 miles away in Bloomington, Ind. By the time rescuers arrived Sunday, nobody was inside.
The 2009 Cessna 400 Corvalis was stolen over the weekend from the Monroe County Airport, the facility’s manager, Bruce Payton said. It was unclear how the thief got into the airport, which has a 10-foot security fence with barbed wire and coded access gates.
U.S. authorities said the heist has similarities to other thefts attributed to 19-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, a Washington state teenager who has no formal flight training.
The teen got his nickname for allegedly committing crimes while shoeless. He is suspected of stealing cars and small airplanes to evade authorities since escaping from a halfway house near Seattle in 2008.
Payton said a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department told him authorities had recovered a stolen vehicle about a half-mile from the Indiana airport and “the details of the stolen vehicle seemed to fit that of the pattern known as the Barefoot Bandit.”
Authorities believe he has taken five planes, luxury cars and power boats.
FBI Special Agent Steven Dean in Seattle said a warrant for Harris-Moore was issued for the theft of an airplane from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, on Sept. 29, 2009. The plane crash-landed after running out of fuel 260 miles away near Snohomish.
In Abaco, a sparsely populated northern Bahamian island known for fishing and sailing, police were handing out wanted posters appealing for information about Harris-Moore.
A statement on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau said Harris-Moore may have recent injuries and urged anyone who sees him to contact the nearest Bahamas police station. It said the FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
A team of detectives in this island chain off the Florida coast traveled from Nassau, the capital, on Tuesday to join the investigation and aid the search for the pilot in Abaco, police Sgt. Chrislyn Skippings said.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman, Jeff Dubel, said an extensive manhunt had been under way since the weekend.
“We have a lot of faith in the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and they are chasing all active leads,” Dubel said.
The Cessna is question has a range of more than 1,400 miles with a full tank of gas.
It was reported missing Sunday after the owner received a call from the U.S. Coast Guard that the emergency locator transmitter on the plane was sending out a beacon signal off the coast of the Bahamas, Payton said.
Meanwhile, Bahamas police received a report of a wrecked plane and requested assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, which dispatched a Falcon jet from Miami to fly over the area. The jet did not find any sign of bodies, said Petty officer Sabrina Elgammal, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Miami.