CAPE MAY — The man who allegedly stole a single-engine plane from a Middle Township landing strip and landed it on a Coast Guard beach in the city has been identified.
Jimmy Dahlen Jr., 50, of Cape May, is a mechanic for Paramount Air Services, a banner plane company that operates up and down the New Jersey coast. His stepmother, Barbara Tomalino, president of the company, said her stepson stole the plane sometime Sunday evening.
Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Dahlen, who has not yet been located.
“This is so bizarre. It really is. ... We can’t fathom any of it,” Tomalino told the The Press of Atlantic City.
Tomalino said her stepson was working for the business Sunday and other workers said he was acting fine during his shift.
“When I saw the videos, it just really added to the questions because it’s just insane. He just seemed quite normal during the day,” Tomalino said.
Witnesses said the plane was flying low before it landed and came close to hitting homes and businesses.
Tomalino said Dahlen is a student pilot, which means he is still working on his license. She said while he’s allowed to fly planes when he is testing them, he can’t fly for commercial purposes and cannot take passengers aboard his flights.
The stolen plane was identified as a Piper PA12 aircraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane is used to fly banners over the beach.
The FAA, which is inves-tigating the incident, took the plane apart and was bringing it back to the hangar Monday.
The Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May increased security after the craft landed on its beach just before 8 p.m. Sunday. That heightened security was relaxed Monday, the Coast Guard said.
Cape May City police and Coast Guard police responded at about 8:10 p.m. Sunday. By then, the pilot had already run away from the plane.
The Coast Guard said footprints were found leading away from the plane and added there was no sign of damage to the plane. The Coast Guard also said it was not aware of the plane’s presence prior to it landing.
Samantha Haws, of Wildwood, said she and other bystanders saw the plane flying low Sunday and said it was close to hitting Wildwood homes and businesses.
“Bystanders were ducking,” Haws said. “At first I thought it was an airshow, but then once I saw it going the way it was, I thought it was going to hit the homes. It was definitely scary for several people outside.”
The Coast Guard said officers became aware of the incident when the plane was spotted on closed-circuit cameras.
Martin Pagliughi, director of the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, said threats from the air are real, though there isn’t a textbook way to prevent something like this from happening.
Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including the Coast Guard Fire Department, Cape May city police, the Cape May County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, Coast Guard police and Coast Guard Investigative Services.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.