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Waterbomber operator offers reward after vandalism puts aircraft in jeopardy

Aug 07 2012
The Martin Mars bomber was suffered vandalism damage over the weekend while moored at Sproat Lake. 

The Martin Mars bomber was suffered vandalism damage over the weekend while moored at Sproat Lake.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Victoria Times Colonist , timescolonist.com file photo

The operator of the Martin Mars waterbombers is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of vandals who punched holes in the tail fins of one of the planes, which could have caused it to crash.

An estimated $25,000 in damage to Hawaii Mars occurred Saturday evening while the aircraft was moored on Sproat Lake, near Port Alberni.

The aircraft, owned by Coulson Group of Port Alberni and on contract to the province to be called out to douse forest fires, will now be subject to 24-hour security.

One or two boatloads of people came up to the aircraft where it was moored and at least one person climbed onto the wings, owner Wayne Coulson said Monday.

One person scrambled down the top of the fuselage and got onto the horizontal stabilizers, which are made of a canvas-like fabric. Their feet went through the fabric, jeopardizing the aircraft’s flight worthiness.

Unaware of the incident, a crew arrived Sunday when they were called to a forest fire on Bowen Island. The usual pre-flight check, carried out by boat, didn’t reveal any damage, so the crew boarded and got the plane underway.

The Martin Mars was called off enroute because ground firefighters were able to handle the fire, so the crew did drills instead, which fortunately did not involve scooping water, Coulson said. “That’s when there’s a ton of torque on the aircraft.”

The four members of the flight crew suspected something was different with the aircraft but couldn’t figure out what it was. It was only on return that someone saw the damage to the fins on the tail.

The seasoned crew members, who range in age from 55 to 65, were sickened by the thought that they had flown a damaged aircraft that could have crashed, said Coulson. “It just shakes everybody — this could have been catastrophic for the aircraft and the four souls aboard.”

Repairs were made Sunday.

Six weeks ago, someone got onto the aircraft at night and left footprints on the wing, Coulson said.

The company is reluctant to put spotlights on the aircraft for fear it would disturb the growing number of residents living around the lake.

Hawaii Mars is the only operational waterbomber of its kind in the world, and is capable of dropping 27,000 litres of water and fire-suppressing gel.

Coulson owns a similar aircraft, Philippine Mars, which is parked on shore and not operational.

Anyone who witnessed the vandalism can call Port Alberni RCMP at (250) 723-2424 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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