On December 30, 2023, authorities at the North Vegas Airport received a notification from an airplane’s emergency location transmitter that was supposedly parked in its hangar. The notification showed that, instead, the airplane was just outside of Los Angeles, California.
They, of course, notified the aircraft’s owner, Jeff Cohn, who told them that he certainly was not flying his 2020 Kitfox single engine plane. Shortly after Cohn found out his plane was missing, the Federal Aviation Authority was alerted that the missing aircraft had landed near Daggett Airport in Barstow, California. The FAA then immediately called the San Bernardino County Sheriff in Barstow and asked them to send a team to the recently landed plane to find out who had stolen it.
When the SBSD deputies arrived at the scene, they saw the “[taxiing] aircraft on Minneola Road heading back towards the airport.” The thief was operating the aircraft, but when he saw the police approaching, he jumped out and fled on foot into the nearby desert.
Luckily, the deputies were able to catch and apprehend the criminal, who they now know to be Damian Zukaitis, a 40-year-old man from Boise, Idaho. He has since been arrested for theft, as well as the transportation of stolen goods over state lines.
However, the investigation is far from over. The North Vegas Airport reported that there were three separate attempts to steal airplanes from their hangars on December 27, 28, and 29. They now believe that Zukaitis is also the culprit of all three attempts. Local authorities are now trying to understand why Zukaitis spent four days trying to steal a plane, and more importantly, what he was planning to do with it when he arrived in Los Angeles.
To make matters worse for Zukaitis, he was apparently drinking and smoking cannabis while piloting the stolen plane. Cohn shared photos with the media of the cockpit after he got his plane back, and it shows several empty beer cans and bottles.
It also has come to light that Damian Zukaitis is a fugitive and a wanted man in Ada County, Idaho. In 2020, he pled guilty to two counts of felony stalking and one count of misdemeanor battery, for which he received five years probation. However, Zukaitis broke his probation in December 2023 by “frequenting a place where alcohol is the main source of income,” as well as “violating a no-contact order violating a no-contact order” according to the Ada County Sheriff’s office.
On December 7, an arrest warrant was issued, but Zukaitis never showed up for his day in court. Of course, since stealing the plane, they will be adding another probation violation to the list. It’s not clear yet exactly what Zukaitis’ sentencing will be, but there’s no doubt that as well as being charged for his crimes in California, he will also face jail time for his multiple violations in Idaho.