The cops claim Colt has “vaporized,” “vanished,” and “ran like lightning.” When the posse does close in, he allegedly rustles luxury cars, boats, and even planes.
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Read breaking news on the search for Colt on Bob Friel's blog, outlawsandoutcasts.
AROUND 10 A.M, everything went to shit. Sixty-mile-an-hour wind gusts grabbed the little Cessna 182, shook it, twisted it, threw it down toward the jagged peaks of the Cascade Range, then slammed it back up again.
Pilots of small planes obsess about the weather. Ill winds, icing, poor visibility all can bring a flight to a terminal, smoldering conclusion. However, when you're a 17-year-old kid with exactly zero hours of flight training other than what you've gleaned online and from DVDs, and you're sitting in the pilot seat of a stolen airplane trying to make a quick getaway from a whole lotta law that's on your tail for busting out of a prison home and going on your second cop-teasing crime spree, well, you've got other things on your mind besides the weather.
It's believed the kid had cased the small airport on Orcas Island, in the San Juans off the coast of Washington, for at least a week, hiding in the trees behind a flimsy deer fence to watch takeoffs and landings, waiting patiently until a late-model Cessna 182 Skylane fuel-injected dependability, easy to fly, rugged as hell touched down and rolled into the hangar farm. Sometime after sundown, he'd pried his way inside the hangar, where he had all night to check out the plane, read the GPS and autopilot manuals, and dig around to find the ignition key the owner had tucked away in a fishing-tackle box. At sunrise, he'd raised the hangar's wide metal door, attached the tow bar, leaned his six-foot-five, 200-pound frame against the one-ton plane, and slowly rolled it out.
Between YouTube and flight sims, any computer literate can find more than enough info to pilot a plane in theory. Microsoft Flight Simulator reproduces the dash of the 182 exactly, and once the thief climbed into the pilot's seat, his fingers found all the gauges and controls quickly, adjusting fuel mixture and rudder trim. The newer fuel-injected engines turn over easily, and with so many private planes on Orcas, none of the neighbors took special notice of the early-morning growls of the Skylane's 235-horsepower Lycoming. He revved up and taxied south toward the still-sleeping town of Eastsound, then spun the plane until its nose aimed straight down runway 34 which ends abruptly in the cold, slate-gray waters of Puget Sound. He went full-throttle and popped the toe brakes. Instantly the plane lurched forward. The virgin pilot kept his cool, applying enough pressure on the right rudder pedal to counteract the propeller torque and keep the Cessna on the skinny, half-mile strip long enough to hit 60 miles per hour, lift off, and mainline an epic hit of euphoria.
From what the pilot's mom, Pam Kohler, tells me, this was not only her son's first solo takeoff but the very first time he'd ever been in a plane. Here's a kid who'd been told over and over, by teachers, by the police, by so-called friends, and by nearly every adult he'd ever had contact with, that he would never do anything. Suddenly he's flying high, soloing in a bright white plane with whooshing red stripes.
He banked toward the sun, which was rising above snowcapped Mount Baker, and turned south, flying alongside Orcas's Mount Constitution, at 2,402 feet the highest point in the San Juan Islands. Within ten minutes, Camano Island, his home, came into view. There's a landing strip on Camano, but that wasn't an option his face already adorned Wanted posters all over that island. So he continued south-southeast, leaving Puget Sound for the mainland and managing to avoid the heavy commercial air traffic around Sea-Tac. South of Seattle, he banked east, putting the frosty white bulk of Mount Rainier in his right-side window, and headed across the Cascades.
The mountains create a lot of weather, and on a good day, this means lively turbulence. On November 12, 2008, it meant wind gusts exploding against the little Cessna like aerial depth charges, causing one massive buzzkill.
"The ride would've been extremely uncomfortable," says Eric Gourley, chief pilot for San Juan Airlines and a flight instructor with somewhere north of 13,000 hours in the air. Gourley spent time as an Alaskan bush pilot, so "uncomfortable" to him means the equivalent of spinning inside a commercial clothes dryer. He's a fellow resident of mine on Orcas Island and taught the owner of the stolen plane popular Seattle radio personality Bob Rivers how to fly. Now he just shakes his head, considering a kid with no training flying over the Cascades that morning, saying it's "almost unbelievable" he made it.