Thief Topples Helicopter In Airport Break-In, FBI Investigating

At least four helicopters were damaged during the break-in at Sacramento Executive Airport.

Four helicopters were damaged, including a Bell 429 helicopter that the thieves got off the ground and subsequently crashed. [Credit: Aung Kaung Myat]

Early on the morning of March 15, someone broke into several helicopters at Sacramento Executive Airport (KSAC) and crashed one of them on the ramp. Four helicopters were damaged, including a Bell 429 helicopter that the thieves got off the ground and subsequently crashed. 

The break-in occurred at about 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Sacramento Bee reported. Sacramento police are investigating the incident, along with the FBI. 

Brian Uretsky, a Caravan pilot based at nearby Sacramento Mather Airport (KMHR), said that traffic to and from KSAC has picked up over the past 24 hours as curious aviators fly in to view the damage. He said the helicopters were parked on the ramp behind the aircraft tie-down area, and several private aircraft were damaged by flying debris from the crashed rotorcraft. 

Amid all the speculation surrounding the event, Uretsky said determining the “why” is incredibly complex. If someone were attempting to steal aircraft for a joy ride, a helicopter should be at the bottom of the list, as they are so complex to operate. 

“Maybe someone was disgruntled at the owner(s) of the helicopters and wanted to do damage,” he said. “As pilots, we have a code—you don’t touch someone else’s aircraft on the ramp unless you have knowledge of, and permission from the owner.” 

This kind of incident is incredibly rare, he added. That’s one of the reasons it’s so shocking.

“There’s a lot of talk about security—building taller fences” and other deterrent measures, Uretsky said, but ultimately, “That’s not going to stop someone with this kind of malicious intent. What we need now is accountability; cameras can help us identify” those involved and ensure the perpetrators are appropriately charged. 

[Credit: Brian Uretsky]

Aircraft piracy is a federal offense that carries a potential prison sentence of 20 years, or even the death penalty if another person was killed as a result of the act. The California Penal Code, Title 14, Malicious Mischief, sec. 625b states that a person who “willfully and maliciously damages, injures, or destroys any aircraft, or the contents or any part thereof, in such a manner as to render the aircraft unsafe for those flight operation,” may be fined $10,000, face prison time, or both. 

The FBI is asking that anyone with information about this incident contact its Sacramento Field Office by phone at 916-746-7000, or report online at

Amy Wilder is managing editor for Plane & Pilot magazine. She fell in love with airplanes at age 8 when her brother-in-law took her up in a Cessna 172. Pretty soon, Amy's bedroom walls were covered with images of vintage airplanes and she was convinced she'd be a bush pilot in Alaska one day. She became a journalist instead, which is also somewhat impractical—but with fewer bears. Now she's working on her private pilot certificate and ready to be a lifelong student of the art of flying.

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