Police and officials at the Hutchinson Airport are trying to find the people who literally "mowed" down a bunch of runway lights and signs early this week. The vandals caused thousands of dollars in damage. It's money a small airport doesn't have in reserves.
At smaller airports across the country, entrance onto the tarmac is actually pretty easy. The gates are usually not locked. The pilots have to be able to get inside to fly, even at night.
"We do have a perimeter fence that surrounds the airport, but we have walkthrough gates," explained Airport Manager Pieter Miller.
That is likely how the criminals got onto the property easily. They clearly spent quite a while inside the fences doing damage.
"They hopped into one of our tractors with a 16 foot mower deck," Miller said. "They got it started up and they drove along the edge of the main apron."
An employee had forgotten to remove the keys from the tractor the previous night. In the course of their joyride, the vandals destroyed 18 runway lights, three pilot guidance signs and a larger runway threshhold light.
Miller had enough replacement lights on hand to fix the damaged ones, but it will cost him $3,000 to fill up his stockpile again.
"We're actually pretty lucky that there were no aircraft out on the apron or in front of the FBO," Miller said. "Otherwise, this would have been a lot messier."
Once they're caught, it's possible the vandals could face stiff penalties. Miller says damaging airplanes or airport property could be considered a federal offense.
If you have any information as to who did this, call Hutchinson Crimestoppers at 620-694-2666.