Pilot Sentenced  In Search And Rescue Hoax





Pilot Sentenced  In Search And Rescue Hoax

By Mike Mitchell

August 21, 2009, Marcus Schrenker, 38, of McCordsville, Indiana, a former money market manager who was accused of milking millions from investors, was sentenced in the Northern District Court of Florida on Wednesday for making a false distress call and intentionally crashing his plane. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison required to pay $34,000 to the U.S. Coast Guard, and pay and another $871,000 to the lien holder on his Piper Malibu Meridian Aircraft.

Schrenker while in-flight reported to air traffic control that his aircraft's windshield had imploded and that he was injured. Moments later Schrenker placed the aircraft on autopilot and then parachuted from the aircraft. He was be investigated by Indiana authorities for milking millions from investors. Shortly after the allegations surfaced in Indiana he attempted to fake his death by crashing the plane we was piloting. Prosecutors said he fled Indiana in the single-engine plane in January to escape financial ruin and a crumbling marriage.


He parachuted out over Alabama, leaving the aircraft autopilot on until the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed. The U.S. Coast Guard had indicted Schrenker on Jan. 14, 2009 with communicating a false distress message and willfully destroying an aircraft.  Special agents from the Coast Guard Investigative Service field office in Mobile, Ala., led a joint federal investigation with the United States Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

The complaint alleged that Schrenker knowingly and willfully communicated a false distress message and caused the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help was needed in violation of Title 14, United States Code, Section 88(c).  The complaint further alleged that Schrenker willfully destroyed his aircraft. On June 5th Schrenker had pled guilty of making a fake distress call and intentionally crashing a plane.  

At the time of the crash the United States Coast Guard had sent out search and rescue which included A 41-foot Utility Boat from Coast Guard Station Pensacola, Fla, The Coast Guard Cutter Cobia, an 87-foot coastal patrol boat home ported in Mobile, Ala., a HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Ala., HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Ala., and An HH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans Schrenker could have faced a 26 years imprisonment, over $250,000 restitution, 3 years of supervised release. It costs the Coast Guard approximately $400 per hour to operate a rescue boat to search, and from $1,500 to $3,000 per hour for aircraft and cutters to search.


On January 10, Schrenker traveled to Harpersville, Alabama, in a pickup truck carrying a red Yamaha motorcycle with saddlebags containing money and supplies. He returned to Indiana after placing the motorcycle in a storage facility, telling the owner he would return and retrieve the motorcycle the following Monday.  

On January 11, 2009, Schrenker departed in his single-engine Piper Meridian from an airfield in Anderson, Indiana, scheduled to fly to Destin, Florida. Near Birmingham, Alabama, he made a distress call, telling air traffic controllers that his windshield had imploded and he was "bleeding profusely." 

He then set the plane to autopilot and parachuted out. The plane flew on, crossing Alabama before ultimately crashing in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Military jets that had been dispatched to intercept Schrenker's plane discovered it in flight, with its door open and cockpit empty. They followed the plane until it crashed just north of Milton, Florida at about 9:20pm. The plane had flown 200 miles (320 km) on autopilot and crashed 50 to 75 yards from a residential area. Upon inspecting the crash site, police discovered a United States atlas and a national campground directory, both of which had the Florida and Alabama sections torn out.  

After parachuting to the ground, Schrenker made his way to a private residence in Childersburg, Alabama, arriving around 2:30am on January 12. Appearing wet from the knees down, he told the resident he had been in a canoeing accident. He received a ride into town, where he made contact with the local police station. Not yet linking Schrenker to the crash, the police brought him to a hotel in Harpersville, where he checked in under a false name and paid for his room with cash. When police returned later that morning, he had fled on foot into nearby woods.  

Schrenker then traveled to the storage facility where he had earlier located his motorcycle, and then rode the vehicle to a KOA Campground in Quincy, Florida. Without offering his name, he told the owners of the grounds that he was traveling cross country with friends, using cash to purchase a one-night tent site, firewood, and a six pack of Bud Light Lime. He was also given access to the campground's wireless internet.  

On January 12, Schrenker emailed neighbor and friend Tom Britt, stating the crash was "a misunderstanding" and that he had checked into the motel because he was “embarrassed and scared" of returning home. He also said that he would likely "be gone" by the time Britt read the email. The same day, a Hamilton County Superior Court judge froze the assets of both Schrenker and his estranged wife.

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