Waterbomber vandalized: Coulson offers $5,000 reward

The Coulson Hawaii Mars water bomber during a test flight on Sunday afternoon after vandalism to its rear tail was repaired. The incident could have had tragic consequences, Coulson said. - SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News
The Coulson Hawaii Mars water bomber during a test flight on Sunday afternoon after vandalism to its rear tail was repaired. The incident could have had tragic consequences, Coulson said.
— image credit: SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News

An act of vandalism on the Hawaii Mars water bomber had near tragic consequences after a flight crew took off without noticing the damage on the weekend.

According to Coulson Group of Companies owner Wayne Coulson, the incident happened late Saturday night as the aircraft was moored in front of the flying tanker base at Sproat Lake. The vandalism caused $25,000 worth of damage.

“Some people climbed up on the fuselage and walked along the wing then tried to walk to the tail,” Coulson said. “They got onto the rear horizontal stabilizer and their foot went through the skin fabric.”

DamageA neighbour who lives near the base reported the incident to Coulson personnel who rushed to the base, but the people had already left.

The base is equipped with a security camera but it was too dark to make anything out on it, he said.

The tanker was set to respond to a fire on Bowen Island on Sunday afternoon. Staff combed through a preflight checklist but missed the hole on the stabilizer. “When they (vandal) pulled their foot back through the hole the skin was pulled back into place,” Coulson said.

The tanker flew enroute to Bowen but were stood down after the fire was brought under control. The crew noticed the aircraft was handling differently but didn't discover the damage until after they landed.

If the flight had gone longer or the tanker scooped its payload of 27, 200 litres of water the incident could have been tragic, Coulson said.

“They (pilots) would have lost control of the plane and if they had water then it would have been really bad,” he said. “The torque per square inch when it has a load is incredible.”

It wasn't just the plane's crew that was put at risk. The aircraft was grounded on the hottest day of summer and could not respond if a local fire broke out, Coulson said. The Hawaii's sister tanker, the Philippine Mars, is in dry dock and not operational.

The incident involving someone climbing onto the tanker is the second in six weeks, something that disappoints Coulson. “We've brought it all over the US and to Mexico and it's never been vandalized,” he said.

The base now has round-the-clock security and Coulson is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for the damage.

“I suspect it was somebody who was visiting the Valley and not a local,” Coulson said.

No suspects have been identified and the investigation into the incident is ongoing, RCMP Staff Sgt. Dave Paddock said.

Anyone with any information about the vandalism can call Port Alberni RCMP at (250) 723-2424 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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