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Missing pilot faked plane crash, police suspect

MILTON, Fla. – A businessman whose financial management companies were under investigation apparently bailed out of his small plane and then let it crash in a Florida swamp.

However, a neighbor said the man later e-mailed him describing the situation as a misunderstanding.

Authorities searched for Marcus Schrenker on Monday after he appeared to have made a phony distress call and secretly parachuted to safety near Birmingham, Ala. His single-engine plane continued flying on autopilot and eventually crashed Sunday more than 200 miles away in Florida.

Neighbor Tom Britt said he received an e-mail from Schrenker claiming the crash was an accident and saying he had wanted the companies under investigation to succeed.

Authorities believe Schrenker was last seen Monday morning in Childersburg, Ala., just south of Birmingham, when a man using his Indiana driver’s license told police that he’d been in a canoe accident. He was wet only from the knees down and had what appeared to be goggles made for flying.

The investigation into the crash began Sunday night, when Schrenker’s single-engine Piper Malibu crashed in north Florida.

The plane was en route from Anderson, Ind., to the Florida Panhandle city of Destin when Schrenker reported turbulence. He said the windshield had imploded and he was bleeding profusely, according to the Sheriff’s Office in Santa Rosa County, where the plane crashed.

After he stopped responding to air traffic controllers, military jets tried to intercept the plane. They noticed the door was open and the cockpit was dark and continued to follow it until it crashed.

But when investigators found the plane, its door was ajar and the wreckage showed no signs of blood or the blown windshield. The Sheriff’s Office said Schrenker appeared to have intentionally abandoned his plane.

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