Authorities search for missing ‘pilot’ of restored fighter jet

EDWARDSVILLE, IL (KPLR) – Larry Thatcher plans to put a fighter plane back up in the air; or at least on a pedestal before the end of the summer.

“The starboard wing there birds have made a nest in and we can patch that up real good,” says Larry Thatcher, volunteer coordinator with the Flight Deck Veterans Association.

Thatcher will be one of a few volunteers meeting Saturday morning in Edwardsville at 9 a.m. as part of the Flight Deck Veterans Association’s restoration effort to spruce up a U.S. Navy A7E Corsair II.

“It’s humbling to be standing this close to an aircraft that when I was 19-years-old I was standing next to then,” says Thatcher.

Since 1991, the plane rested at the Edwardsville Township Community Park, or as locals called it: Airplane Park or Jet Park.

“Everybody knows where the airplane is,” says Thatcher. “Ironically, I served with this airplane on the U.S.S. Nimitz in 1976. So she and I made the maiden voyage with the Nimitz together.”

But the pilot of this plane has jettisoned the cockpit or rather, someone has made off with “Mabel.” The Edwardsville Police Department believes someone absconded with the mannequin that had sat in the cockpit since 1991.

Authorities said the theft took place over the Memorial Day Weekend, when the jet was lowered from the pedestal for restoration.

“The pilot is gone, Mabel was kidnapped or held hostage,” says Thatcher. “We would like to have Mabel back. She has a Navy flight suit, as well as a Navy cranial, which is not a cheap item. So we would love to have her back.”

Also of note, the plane is still technically owned by the United States Department of Defense, on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. So they’ll set their course for cleaning on Saturday, and hope their pilot returns so this jet can get back off the ground.