Crime

‘Pilot’ missing from fighter’s seat in Airplane Park

Mabel the Pilot sits on a stack of 1991 phone books in the cockpit of the Corsair at Airplane Park, which is what Edwardsville residents tend to call Robert Stille Township Park. The plane is undergoing restoration after 26 years on display in the park.
Mabel the Pilot sits on a stack of 1991 phone books in the cockpit of the Corsair at Airplane Park, which is what Edwardsville residents tend to call Robert Stille Township Park. The plane is undergoing restoration after 26 years on display in the park.

Mabel the Pilot is missing from her cockpit in the plane in Airplane Park.

The U.S. Navy A7E Corsair II on display in Edwardsville Township Community Park has been lowered from its pylons for a restoration process set to begin next week. For more than 25 years, a mannequin affectionately named Mabel has sat on a stack of telephone books in the cockpit in full flight uniform and helmet. The phone books replaced the ejection seat mechanisms and other electronics that were removed from the plane prior to its display in the park.

At some point over Memorial Day weekend, it appears someone stole Mabel out of the plane, according to a news release from Edwardsville Township. The Edwardsville Police Department is currently reviewing surveillance footage, according to the release.

At the time Mabel was placed in the plane, women were not permitted to fly combat missions. In that, Mabel was ahead of her time, according to Edwardsville Township Supervisor Frank Miles.

“It is our hope that through soliciting the community’s assistance, we will be able to recover an artifact of Edwardsville Township history, and in doing so, preserve the history of the aircraft and its long-term role as a symbol... of ‘Airplane Park,’” Miles said.

Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keeven said Mabel was last seen in her cockpit at 8:30 p.m. on May 27. “We noticed her missing at 8:30 a.m. on May 31, which gives us a four-day window,” Keeven said. “My hope is that as time goes on, she will show up... similar to the baby Jesus scenario, where she is returned to the park.”

The baby Jesus statue was part of the nativity scene in front of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Edwardsville, which likewise disappeared two years ago. In that case, the perpetrator returned the statuette, paid for its repairs and joined the church to place it in the nativity the following Christmas. In return, the church declined to press criminal charges.

The empty plane remains on its temporary platform in the park, without any apparent damage beyond the deterioration that has necessitated its restoration.

“We just want to get (Mabel) back,” Keeven said. “That’s part of the restoration process.”

Edwardsville Police officers are also riding up and down the bike trails that connect to the park, Keeven said, in case someone decided to discard the mannequin along the trail.

The Corsair has been on display since 1991, on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum. The restoration is slated to begin on June 10 with cleaning and repairs, after which the plane is scheduled to be placed back up on its display pylon, “flying” over what is commonly known as Airplane Park.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Edwardsville Police Department’s anonymous tip line at 618-692-7552.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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