Investigators: Man abandoned plane before crash


Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 3:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 3:08 p.m.

MILTON, Fla. -- Police were searching for an Indiana man Monday who may have parachuted from his small plane after calling in an emergency and left the aircraft on auto pilot until it crashed in Florida.

Investigators said there were no signs in the plane's wreckage of the emergency reported by Marcus Schrenker, 38, and that a man using Schrenker's Indiana driver's license later checked into an Alabama motel and then ran into the woods.

The single-engine Piper Malibu crashed in north Florida on Sunday night while flying from Anderson, Ind., to the Florida panhandle city of Destin.

As he flew over Alabama, Schrenker reported turbulence and later said the windshield had blown into the aircraft and that he was bleeding profusely, according to a release from the sheriff's department in Santa Rosa County, where the plane hit the ground in a swampy area.

However, deputies who located the wreckage did not find blood at the crash site and the aircraft's door was ajar. The wreckage was scattered across a swampy area near Milton.

The sheriff's department said that Schrenker "appears to have intentionally abandoned the plane after putting it on auto pilot over the Birmingham, Ala., area and parachuting to the ground."

Early Monday morning, a man with Schrenker's Indiana driver's license approached police officers in Childersburg, Ala., southeast of Birmingham, and told them he had been in a canoeing accident, according to the release.

The officers, unaware of the Florida plane crash, took the man to a hotel. They returned later and found that Schrenker had checked in under a false name, paid for his hotel room in cash and then ran into nearby woods.

The crash happened within 50 to 75 yards of houses, Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Scott Haines.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were both on the scene with deputies, Haines said.

A telephone message left for a Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman in Birmingham was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.

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