Officials Say Pilot May Have Bailed Out
ANN REALTIME UPDATE
01.12.09 2300 EST (More Background Added): It
appears increasingly likely the pilot of a Piper Meridian that
crashed Sunday night didn't perish in the accident... but rather
that Marcus Schrenker apparently pulled a
D.B. Cooper, and parachuted out of the plane
somewhere over Alabama.
WALA-10 reports a police officer in Childersburg, AL came across
the 38-year-old man Sunday night, and drove him to a local hotel.
The officer was unaware of the true circumstances of Schrenker's
arrival in the town, as the pilot told him he had been in a
canoeing accident, WALA adds.
Some Internet snooping has also revealed a possible motive
for the pilot's vanishing act. Schrenker is
president of Indianapolis-based Heritage Wealth Management...
which, along with sister companies Heritage Insurance Services and
Icon Wealth Management, are under investigation for possible
securities fraud, to the tune of some $1.4 million.
The Birmingham News reports Schrenker was recently ordered
by a federal court to pay a $533,564 judgement to OM Financial Life
Insurance Company, after he failed to appear in court on the
matter. The Associated Press adds his wife, Michelle, filed for
divorce on December 30... one day before federal officers raided
the Schrenkers' home in the affluent Geist Reservoir area of
As noted below, Schrenker issued a distress call about 7:20 pm
CST Sunday, telling ATC one of the Meridian's windscreens had blown
out following an encounter with severe turbulence, and that he was
injured. Controllers had no further contact with the pilot.
"A careful review of the radar data, coupled with other
information we received from other sources, indicate that it
appears that he may have exited the aircraft at some point in the
flight," FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
The plane crashed four hours later in the Florida panhandle,
apparently after running out of fuel. The Meridian impacted a
residential bayou area near the Gulf shoreline, and came to
rest inverted within 100 yards of a home. No one on the ground was
Schrenker reportedly paid cash for his hotel room in
Childersburg, and checked in under a pseudonym. Police believe he
later fled into a wooded area near the hotel.
The man remained missing as of Monday night.
EST: Search crews are combing the Florida panhandle for
signs of the pilot of a Piper PA-46-500TP Meridian turboprop that
crashed near East Milton Sunday night... but there's evidence the
pilot did not go down with his plane, for reasons that are as yet
CNN reports the lone pilot radioed controllers while flying
approximately 35 miles southwest of Birmingham, AL that the
windscreen of the pressurized aircraft had 'imploded' and that he
was bleeding heavily.
Controllers attempted to make further contact with the pilot and
give him vectors to land at St. Clair County Airport (PLR) near
Pell City, AL, but he "did not prove responsive," said Sgt. Scott
Haines of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office in a interview
The aircraft later crashed in a wooded, marshy area, about 50
miles west of Destin; first responders reportedly found the
aircraft lying inverted, with one of the plane's windscreens
missing, and the cabin door open.
In an odd twist, early Monday reports surfaced the pilot --
identified by the New York Daily News as Marcus Schrenker,
President of Heritage Wealth Management -- may have bailed out of
the aircraft via parachute. CNN reported witnesses near
Harpersville, AL saw the pilot check into a hotel.
"All indications now are that he made some type of false
emergency call [and] abandoned the plane by parachute," Haines
added in a follow-up interview Monday morning.
At the moment, however, there's no sign of the man's
FAA records show the accident aircraft, N428DC, departed
Anderson Municipal Airport (AID) in Indiana Sunday evening, heading
for Destin, FL. Online flight tracking data indicates the pilot
checked in with Indianapolis Center shortly after takeoff at 6:40
pm CST, and was eventually cleared to Destin at FL240.
According to FlightAware.com, the aircraft descended from 24,000
feet to 3,900 feet over the course of 10 minutes, beginning at 7:24
pm EST. Controllers apparently also attempted to route the pilot to
land at Northeast Alabama Regional Airport (GAD), but the airplane
overflew that field.
Just after 8:00 pm CST, the aircraft (type shown below) passed
over Sylacauga Municipal Airport (SCD) at 3,800 feet MSL reported.
For the next 58 minutes, the aircraft's altitude varied between
3,800 and 4,000 feet on a constant SSW heading, at an airspeed of
The Meridian's speed later deteriorated to under 100 knots, and
at 9:12 pm the aircraft descended to just 200 feet... where it
remained until the last radar echo was reported two hours later, at
a recorded speed of 82 knots.
The constant heading of the plane's ground track indicates the
plane was placed on autopilot, and it may have crashed after
running out of fuel. Miltary aircraft dispatched to shadow the
Meridian after Schrenker made his initial distress call
reported the plane's cabin door was open, and the cockpit appeared
Steve Darlington, manager of the Anderson Airport, said he does
not believe the pilot had a parachute when he departed from AID. He
described Schrenker as an "accomplished" pilot, adding he
owns "a couple of airplanes."
ANN will have updates on this unusual story as they become
PA46 Description: PA-46 Malibu,
Date: 01/12/2009 Time: 1420
Event Type: Accident Highest Injury:
None Mid Air: N Missing:
City: MILTON State: FL Country:
AIRCRAFT REPORTED INFLIGHT EMERGENCY AND CRASHED INTO A
WREAKAGE LOCATED 1 MILE FROM MILTON, FL, REPORTS INDICATE
THAT THE ONE
PERSON ON BOARD EXITED THE AIRCRAFT VIA PARACHUTE AND IS
INJURY DATA Total
# Crew: 1 Fat:
0 Unk: 1
# Pass: 0 Fat:
Fat: 0 Ser:
WEATHER: 0300Z 36011G18KT 10SM 120BKN 07/03
Activity: Pleasure Phase:
Unknown Operation: OTHER