Page last updated at 23:58 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

US businessman 'fakes own death'


A US businessman facing financial problems has apparently faked his own death by bailing out of his plane and letting it crash in a Florida swamp.

A rescue operation was launched when Marcus Schrenker made a distress call saying his plane's windscreen had imploded and he was bleeding.

Mr Schrenker, 38, is still missing, but thought to be alive and well.

His financial management companies are reportedly under investigation and he owes $500,000 to an insurance company.

Police think the financial adviser may have parachuted from the plane before it crashed.

Running for the woods

Mr Schrenker was the only person aboard the single engine Piper plane that took off for Florida on Sunday from Anderson, Indiana.

When the authorities received a distress call from the pilot as he flew over Alabama, a rescue operation was launched.

Two military planes were scrambled and they found Mr Schrenker's plane flying on autopilot, with its door open and no sign of the pilot.

The plane then crashed in a swampy area near Milton, Florida, close to several homes.

But investigators said the wreckage showed no signs of blood or a smashed windshield.

The sheriff's office in Santa Rosa County - where the plane crashed - said the pilot appeared to have intentionally abandoned his plane.

The office of Marcus Schrenker in McCordsville, Indiana
Marcus Schrenker's businesses have been under investigation

A man with Mr Schrenker's identification apparently checked into a hotel in Alabama after the crash, telling police he had been in a canoeing accident, before being seen running away into nearby woods.

It emerged on Tuesday that the Indiana Department of Insurance filed a complaint against Mr Schrenker last January on behalf of seven investors who claimed he cost them more than $250,000 (172,000) because he never told them they would face high fees to switch annuities.

A hearing in the case was scheduled for next week.

On Tuesday, prosecutors alleged that Mr Schrenker had been advising clients even though his license had expired on 31 December. A judge ordered him arrested on financial fraud charges.

Authorities in Indiana have been probing Mr Schrenker's financial management businesses - Heritage Wealth Management Inc, Heritage Insurance Services Inc and Icon Wealth Management - for possible securities violations, said Jim Gavin, spokesman for Indiana's secretary of state.

Judgement issued

Officers searched Mr Schrenker's home on 31 December looking for computers, notes, photographs and other documents related to those companies, said Mr Gavin.

On Friday, two days before the crash, a federal judge in Maryland issued a $533,500 (367,000) judgment against Heritage Wealth Management Inc, in favour of a life insurance company.

The lawsuit said there had been problems with insurance or annuity plans sold by Heritage Wealth Management.

The case took another turn on Tuesday when investigators said it looked like Mr Schrenker had stashed a red motorcycle in an Alabama storage unit before the crash, then retrieved it and fled.

"He could be anywhere at all," said Harpersville Police Chief David Latimer.

"Within 10 hours he could be in New Orleans, halfway to Houston, in Atlanta, anywhere. I believe he's out of the US.

"He jumped out an airplane and left it to crash who knows where. He has shown a total disregard for human life. I think he would do anything to get away."

Investigators believe Mr Schrenker's plan was to let the plane crash into the Gulf of Mexico, Mr Latimer said, but the plane ran out of fuel first.

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