Read More on Colton Harris-Moore
Buy Bob Friel's new book, The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw , due out March 20, and read his original Outside story, "The Ballad of Colton Harris Moore".
COLT KNEW that the tower crew at the Monroe County airport in Bloomington, Indiana, started work at 6:30 a.m. Dawn began brightening the eastern sky at 5:53, so there was plenty of light outside as he raised the hangar’s big bifold doors. He rolled the Cessna out, then closed and locked the doors behind him. With any luck, no one would notice that the plane was missing for hours—maybe days, if he caught a break like he had when he crashed his third stolen plane and no one paid any attention to its emergency beacon.
Colt cranked the engine and taxied to the runway. At exactly 6:01, a security camera captured Cessna Corvalis N660BA taking off into the clear purple sky. It was July 4, Independence Day.
Since his April 2008 escape from juvenile detention in Seattle, 19-year-old Colton Harris-Moore had outfoxed and outrun the authorities time and again for 26 months. In Washington’s San Juan Islands, near where he grew up, he’d become famous for stealing planes, a crime all the more audacious because Colt had never had a formal flight lesson. On May 16, 2010, he pirated a $400,000 sport yacht and left the San Juans, then hopscotched across the country in a series of stolen trucks and boats. With the FBI, bounty hunters, and numerous local authorities trying to track him down, at the end of June Colt made camp in a small copse inside the fence at Monroe County Airport, waiting patiently for just the right airplane to land. At noon on July 3 his ship came in. Colt watched as the Cessna landed and had its oil changed and fuel tanks filled. Conveniently, the mechanic left the keys inside the plane.
Colt now had a fine plane and a plan that made sense, at least to him. Instead of a short hop, this time he planned to leapfrog far ahead of his pursuers. Not that he had any reason to be concerned that they were catching up to him. After all, he had just spent an entire week at an airport within a half-mile of where he’d dumped the last stolen car. This flight would be the big one—bigger headlines, bigger splash. He had a plane that could carry him out of the country to where he thought the good life lived.
On paper, the Corvalis could just make it to Cuba. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt signed an extradition treaty with Cuba that covered fugitives wanted for larceny, which would include Colt’s crimes. Complicated relations between the two countries since La Revolución, however, had made the treaty unworkable, and Cuba had become a possibility for certain fugitives. Flying there direct from the United States without a flight plan can be dangerous, though, and not just because of the risk of miscalculating fuel and dropping into the Straits of Florida.
Instead, Colt veered east and flew out over the Gulf Stream with a different destination in mind. Fittingly for a story that so far had included UFO sites, ancient Indian burial grounds, and Bigfoot hunters, a little over four hours after he’d taken off from Indiana the Barefoot Bandit entered the Bermuda Triangle.
Around 11:15 a.m., several Bahamians noticed the Cessna circling north of Sandy Point, a small village on a beach-fringed spur at the south end of Great Abaco. Private planes often buzz the area—either to take aerial photos of the scenery or to scout for a stretch of coast on which to carve out a development—so no one paid much attention to it.
Sandy Point Airport serves this sparsely populated end of the island, but Colt didn’t dare use the runway. It was daylight, plus he figured there’d be customs and immigration officers there to greet planes. He’d have to execute another off-field landing. (Of the four previous planes he’d stolen, two endured hard off-field landings, so he’d had some practice.) Colt settled on a section of sugary bog, the margin of a wetland covered in marsh grasses and mangrove sprouts.