Fort Payne, AL (AP) -- A 14-year-old boy allegedly found a key inside an unlocked plane and took the aircraft on a late-night joy ride, buzzing an Alabama town for nearly 30 minutes as he took off and landed twice.
The youth suffered minor cuts and bruises Wednesday night in his second landing, which was rough, but authorities still took him to a juvenile lockup after charging him with theft of a Cessna 152 worth $35,000.
Police said the boy, who wasn't identified because of his age, had no flying experience. He allegedly took his mother's van from their home in Rainsville and drove to the airport in Fort Payne, about five miles away.
Police Chief David Walker said the teen told officers he unhooked the plane's tie-downs, started the engine and began ''driving the plane around, and the next thing he knew he was in the air.''
He said the boy flew for about five minutes before landing on the runway and taking off again, flying for a longer period over several areas of town before returning to the airport.
Walker said the plane apparently came in too hard during the boy's second landing, making him loose control.
''The plane left the runway and the juvenile stated he gave it more throttle to try to get back in the air and avoid the fence,'' Walker said.
The plane cleared the fence, but the engine died and it came down hard on a road beside the airport. The landing gear collapsed and the propeller dug into the road.
Walker said instruments indicated the plane was in the air for 26 minutes in all.
Mayor Bill Jordan said the airport was secure except for one open gate.
''It's a miracle the boy wasn't killed or someone else wasn't hurt or killed or that we didn't have significant property damage from the plane crashing somewhere else,'' Jordan told the Times-Journal of Fort Payne. The last thing you think about is a 14-year-old stealing a plane from the airport.''
Authorities said the incident raised questions about homeland security measures in Fort Payne, a textile town of 13,000 located about 80 miles northeast of Birmingham. The airport manager acknowledged the issue hadn't gotten much consideration in the past.
''We've never had a problem before with planes being stolen, so I guess we have been a little lax in our security,'' said Larry Noble Cowart, who owns Valley Aviation, which runs the airport and owns the airplane that was taken late Wednesday.