Search continues for missing Geist pilot
Chris Proffitt/Eyewitness News
Milton, Florida - An acquaintance of the Indiana man at the center of a plane crash mystery says he's received an e-mail from the missing pilot saying the situation is a misunderstanding and he fears he will soon be dead.
Tom Britt received the e-mail Monday night from neighbor Marcus Schrenker, whose businesses are under investigation for possible securities violations. Britt believes the e-mail is real but says its authenticity hasn't been verified.
Authorities believe Schrenker let his plane crash in the Florida panhandle and apparently parachuted to safety.
Britt says Schrenker tells him the crash was an accident and he wanted his companies to succeed. Schrenker tells Britt he fears he will "be gone" by the time the e-mail is read and added, "I embarrassed my family for the last time."
The e-mail is the latest in a bizarre series of events that investigators say ended with the 38-year-old Schrenker making a life-or-death distress call before apparently parachuting out of his small plane over Alabama began long before Schrenker took off from Anderson's airport Sunday.
The Geist businessman left the Anderson airport alone in his six-seat plane bound for his family vacation home in Destin, Florida. The plane crashed in Milton, Florida Sunday night after Schrenker reported over Alabama that his windshield was blown into the aircraft and that he was bleeding.
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 in a bayou surrounded by homes.
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 put the aircraft into autopilot before parachuting out of his plane near Birmingham.
Bill and Debbie Timbie, whose house is less than 100 yards from where the plane crashed, were home Sunday night when they heard the jets flying overhead. Bill Timbie gave rescuers looking for the downed plane a ride through the swamp in his canoe.
"Now, after you think about it, it could have been real bad, it could have taken out two or three houses," he said Monday.
Leaving problems behind
Schrenker owns the Icon Group, a Geist-area investment company under investigation by the state. Neighbors and acquaintances say that on New Year's Eve day, investigators went to Schrenkers office and removed computers. They also seized computer from his home.
"We fully expect him to show up next week and face the music," said Jim Atterholt, state insurance commissioner. The department brought eight counts against Schrenker.
Indiana State police confirm to Eyewitness News that they assisted the Indiana secretary of state's office in a securities fraud investigation into Schrenker's Icon Group investment company.
Schrenker allegedly transferred client's insurance annuities to other accounts without telling them, earning huge "surrender penalties" for himself.
"Potentially a million dollars or more but certainly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars [lost by investors]," Atterholt said.
"He seemed to be very trustworthy," said investor David Smith.
Smith thought his money was going into what was then a hot stock market. Instead, he learned almost $850,000 went into an annuity that Schrenker later transferred, collecting $170,000 dollars in fees. Smith says Schrenker "conned family and friends into thinking he was just the guy to trust. Beware."
The state's raid came one day after documents show Schrenker's wife Michelle filed for divorce in Hamilton County.
"Why somebody would jump out of a plane and leave it on autopilot with his training and his background is beyond me. There's no reason for him to do it," said Britt, a Geist businessman.
Police say Schrenker turned up in Childersburg, Alabama. He told a police officer he'd been in a canoeing accident with friends. Officers say Schrenker was only wet from the knees down and had no other injuries. Schrenker also had some goggles that looked like they were made for flying, police said.
"I said, 'Do they have his body? Call the police and tell them to pull the teeth out of it, because if there's a body in that plane, I guarantee that's not Marc Schrenker,"' Britt said.
At that point the officers in that area were unaware of the plane crash and took Schrenker to a hotel. When they learned of the crash, they contacted the Santa Rosa County sheriff and confirmed that their subject had the same name as that of the pilot in the crash.
"Guy come walking up to the door, said he turned a boat over, him and his buddies, there in the river," said a man who saw Schrenker Sunday night. "He wanted me to carry him to Harpersville, so I took him to Childersburg."
Childersburg Police went to the hotel where Schrenker was dropped off., but he wasn't there.
After checking into the motel, paying cash and giving an assumed name, Schrenker changed clothes, put on a dark hat and took off into the woods. He left behind military food rations, the goggles and an invitation to a graduation at Indiana State University.
His plane hit the ground miles away, empty.
Numerous local, state, and federal agencies are assisting in Alabama, Indiana, and Florida in the effort to locate Schrenker.
The FAA and the NTSB are investigating at the crash site.