MIAMI (Reuters) – A pilot wanted on financial fraud charges parachuted out of his plane over Alabama and allowed the aircraft to crash in neighboring Florida in an apparent attempt to fake his death, sheriff’s investigators said on Monday.
Authorities launched a manhunt for the pilot, who survived and checked into an Alabama hotel, and then fled, the Santa Rosa County, Florida, sheriff’s office said.
Related article: Warrant issued for missing pilot (CNN)
The pilot, identified as Marcus Schrenker, 38, was the only person aboard the plane that took off for Florida on Sunday from Anderson, Indiana.
Over Alabama, the pilot made a bogus emergency call, saying the plane’s windshield had imploded and he was bleeding profusely. He then put the plane on autopilot and parachuted out, investigators said.
Military jets were scrambled to aid the plane, a Piper PA-46 Turbo Prop, and the military pilots noticed the Piper’s door was open. They followed the empty plane to northwest Florida, where it crashed on Sunday night near the city of Milton, in a swampy area within a few hundred yards of some houses, said Sgt. Scott Haines of Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s office.
A man believed to be the pilot approached police near the Alabama city of Harpersville on Sunday night, wet up to the knees and seeking help. He told them he had been in a canoe accident, showed them a drivers license identifying him as Schrenker and was taken by police to a hotel, investigators said.
By the time Alabama authorities learned about the plane crash, he had fled the hotel, Haines said.
“After Schrenker paid for his room with cash, he put on a black toboggan cap and ran into the woods located next to the hotel,” he said.
Insurance regulators in Indiana had charged Schrenker with misleading consumers and misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Indianapolis Star newspaper reported. On December 31, investigators executed criminal search warrants for three wealth management businesses he owned, the newspaper said.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
By Jane Sutton
Tue Jan 13, 2009 2:08pm EST