Chapel Hill man accused of stealing, crashing plane

Police are searching for a Chapel Hill man after he allegedly stole a plane and crashed it, according to Randy Jones, a spokesman for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

Police are currently looking for Curtis Mellott, 45, in the Durham – Chapel Hill area.

The UNC-Chapel Hill University Police are handling the investigation after a small plane was stolen sometime between 9 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday from the Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill. Randy Young, spokesman for the university’s police department, said at times, the airport is not staffed. He said people are in the office from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Young said a person could fit through the gate at the airport, but not a vehicle.

Civil Air Patrol discovered the Piper PA32 in a field around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the FAA. The plane crashed in a wooded area off of Wildlife Club Road in Graham.

“What it appears is the plane just came out of the sky in a circular motion crashing here and probably had it come straight in, we’d probably found the pilot in the plane,” said Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Larry Fitzgerald Warren, who owns the plane, was unaware the plane was stolen until the Alamance County Sherriff’s office contacted him Tuesday afternoon. He had seen his plane Monday night.

Johnson said the plane had one empty and one full fuel tank. He suspected the person who stole and crashed the plane did not know how to switch to the other tank.

Johnson said the suspect crawled out of a window and took off through the woods, leaving a bloody trail behind.

“Probably three and a half, four miles through the woods here. Our dogs tracked to an intersection of snow camp road and Highway 87 South which is our Eli Whitney community, which is the way an individual would go back to Chapel Hill from this area,” Johnson said.

The uncertainty about the suspect’s location was concerning for some people who live near the crash, including Cindy Shetter.

“There’s the little bit of fear factor since the pilot is missing. Is (it) somebody that would steal a plane? Ok, he or she doesn’t necessarily have the best morals . That gives you a little bit of a fright,” she said.

Johnson said he’s never dealt with a stolen aircraft in his 40-year-long law enforcement career. Jones said at least one media outlet and a federal agency had contacted investigators wondering if the theft might be terrorist-related. Jones said there’s no indication of that at this point in the investigation.

Young said the person who stole the plane would likely face a larceny charge. Anything beyond that will depend on the investigation and the district attorney, he said. Jones said the suspect could face a possession of stolen property charge in Alamance County.