Pilot’s 3-Day Run From Ruin Ends

Marcus Schrenker thought he had it all figured out, the authorities say.

Desperate to escape mounting legal, financial and marital problems, the troubled financial adviser hopped in his six-seat plane on Sunday and flew south across Alabama, faked a distress call and then parachuted out moments later, leaving the plane to coast to a crash landing hundreds of miles away. Once on the ground, they said, he made his way to a motorcycle he had stashed over the weekend, paying for incidentals along the way — like a motel room and a storage unit — with cash.

But in the end, Mr. Schrenker could not run for long. He lasted barely two days before United States Marshals caught up with him at a campsite near Quincy, Fla., just south of the Georgia border, on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Schrenker, 38, was found alone in a tent with deep gashes on his wrists. He was bleeding heavily, and was treated at the scene before being airlifted to a nearby hospital, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, the Associated Press reported.

But Mr. Schrenker’s problems are only just beginning. In addition to the lawsuits he hoped to escape, stemming from accusations that he defrauded several clients, Mr. Schrenker now faces federal charges related to the abandonment of his plane, which crashed near several homes in northern Florida.

Mr. Schrenker, who is originally from Indiana, was charged in a county court there on Tuesday with unlawful acts by a compensated adviser and unlawful transaction by an investment adviser, in part because he is accused of withdrawing money from his clients’ accounts. A day earlier, an Indiana judge froze Mr. Schrenker’s assets. Court records show that Mr. Schrenker’s wife filed for divorce on Dec. 30. A Maryland court recently issued a judgment of more than $500,000 against one of three Indiana companies registered in his name — and all three are being investigated for securities fraud by the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, a spokesman, Jim Gavin, said.

Mr. Schrenker has at least a decade of experience as a pilot, according to the airport in Anderson, Ind., where he departed Sunday evening, apparently destined for Destin, Fla. But the police said that within hours of taking off, he issued a distress call.

He told air traffic controllers that the windshield of his Piper PA-46 turboprop had imploded and that he was bleeding profusely. The control tower told him to try to land nearby, but instead of doing that, he strapped on a parachute, put the plane on autopilot, and jumped out somewhere over Birmingham, Ala., the police in Santa Rosa County, Fla., said.

Military jets that were sent to help spotted the plane’s door open and the cockpit dark and empty in flight.

The plane eventually went down about 200 miles away in East Milton, Fla., but Mr. Schrenker turned up in Childersburg, Ala., where he told local officers he had been in a boating accident, and then disappeared again.

On Tuesday, as investigators scoured three states for signs of Mr. Schrenker, they learned that he had stashed a red Yamaha motorcycle in a storage unit just outside of Childersburg. When investigators arrived at the unit, they found the motorcycle gone, and the wet clothes that the local police in Childersburg had seen him wearing were scattered on the floor.

Mr. Schrenker had parked the bike in the unit over the weekend — paying the storage fee in cash — and then picked it up under an assumed name sometime on Monday, the authorities said.

At some point during his trek, Mr. Schrenker apparently found time to check his e-mail as well. Tom Britt, a neighbor of his in Indiana, told the authorities that he received a message from Mr. Schrenker on Monday night that alluded to suicide.

“I embarrassed my family for the last time and by the time you read this I will be gone,” Mr. Britt quoted the message as saying. Mr. Schrenker claimed in the message that a window in the plane imploded, hitting him with glass and causing him to lose oxygen.

“Hypoxia can cause people to make terrible decisions and I simply put on my parachute and survival gear and bailed out,” he said in the message.

Federal marshals said the injuries that Mr. Schrenker sustained at the campsite in Florida were not life-threatening. As of Wednesday morning, they said, he was still being treated at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare — in a room under close security.

From NEW YORK TIMES 1/14/09

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