Theft torches Torrance aviator’s dream for his vintage plane

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Sometimes Anis Pradhan would end a 10- or 12-hour workday only to tackle another project — tightening wheel covers, adjusting brake calipers and popping out small dents in a post-World War II single-engine plane.

Over years, the Torrance aircraft mechanic and flight school owner invested stolen hours in what slowly became a life’s project: the rebuilding and conversion of this vintage aircraft into a teaching tool.

He’d pledged to donate the aircraft, the tools and additional parts to a nonprofit organization in his native Nepal, with the goal of training some of that nation’s next generation of pilots and mechanics.

Growing up in Nepal, Pradhan said he’d known few pilots or aircraft mechanics. He moved to the U.S. as a teen in the 1990s. His dream was to offer inspiration and guidance to dozens of aspiring Nepalese aviators.

That was until earlier this month.

The plane, four separate engines, dozens of tools, parts and the Airstream trailer they were all stored in were stolen Jan. 3. Video surveillance shows thieves connecting the trailer to a white pickup truck at a storage facility in an unincorporated area near Torrance and driving away.

Ten days later, the pilfered goods were found stripped and, in some instances, charred beyond recognition in Long Beach.

“It was heartbreaking to see that,” Pradhan said. “That was my life — 10 to 12 years of my life working on that plane with my bare hands. I can’t believe it’s gone.”

Pradhan has sought donations. “I can’t wait another 10 to 12 years to finish this,” he said.

Los Angeles police are investigating the theft and destruction of property but did not confirm Thursday whether they had leads or suspects.

Pradhan said he hadn’t purchased insurance for the rebuilt plane, a 1948 Piper PA-15 Vagabond, since he had planned to ship the aircraft to Nepal in March.

The aircraft’s voyage would have capped a mission that, for Pradhan, once felt like a pipe dream.

When he met a man named Mahabir Pun at a Nepalese business mixer stateside eight years ago, Pradhan was a seasoned aviation mechanic with 20 years’ experience. He had flown Cessnas in his spare time and was in the process of starting the Torrance flight academy.

Pun runs the 12-year-old National Innovation Center, based in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, which is “dedicated to creating the culture of research and innovation in Nepal.”

The center had worked on big national projects in Nepal, such as creating software to reduce blind spots for truckers, the installation of solar-powered water heaters, and converting animal waste into high-quality fertilizer.

Pradhan said Pun recruited him to help address the need for qualified pilots in the country.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal noted in December that air travel had boomed within the country over the last 25 years.

Air passenger movement within the country rose 364% during that time. The nation also saw the arrival of 1 million tourists by plane in 2023.

The country needs more pilots to meet that demand, according to Nepalese media reports.

At the time, Pradhan had already been rebuilding the Vagabond, which he planned to use personally.

“The goal was to give back to my community, to provide a service that isn’t offered much despite the growing need,” Pradhan said.

For Pradhan, the theft and destruction of his plane didn’t just destroy a dream, but also the opportunity to help his fellow Nepalese.

“That’s what hurts most, more than the thousands of lost hours of work and sacrifice,” he said. “That’s something I might not get over.”





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