It turned out that the pilot, one Marcus Schrenker of Indianapolis, Indiana was flying his Piper Malibu Meridian on Sunday night down to Destin, Florida. Schrenker was a businessman who headed up a number of those “wealth management” companies. You know, those are the companies at which people who don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves invest their money so that they make more money. Trouble is, these companies are sometimes just schemes for the proprietor to get rich, never mind the clients. Sometimes the scam goes on for a long time before failing (e.g. that crazy Madoff affair). But when the house of cards inevitably falls, all hell breaks loose. Apparently, all hell was lately breaking loose in Schrenker’s life.
So there he was that night, cruising along serenely in his Piper Meridian at 24,000 feet. Somewhere around Birmingham, Alabama, a little more than halfway to Destin, Mr. Schrenker reported to air traffic control (ATC) that the airplane had experienced an “explosive decompression” and that he was injured. As controllers watched, the airplane descended to a more breathable 3,800 feet.
Then ATC suddenly stopped receiving responses from the pilot. So they scrambled a couple of jets from New Orleans to go up and assist. The jets intercepted the Piper, and reported that all of the windows appeared to be intact and that, get this, nobody appeared to be in the cockpit.
That would be because Mr. Schrenker had already bailed out.
The plane continued southbound at 3,800 feet. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Schrenker’s scheme was for it to continue out over the Gulf of Mexico and crash into the water. It shouldn’t have taken a genius to realize that a turbine engine, especially the type that was installed in Schrenker’s plane, is horribly inefficient at low altitude; fuel consumption is very high. To be most efficient, the Piper Meridian needs to be flown high, up around 20,000 feet to achieve the maximum speed and minimum fuel consumption.
But Mr. Schrenker was not a genius. In fact, as we would soon come to find out, he was not a particularly bright guy at all. And unfortunately for him and his grand plan, the Piper ran out of fuel before it hit the coast. Oops! Luckily, it did not crash into any houses when it came down.
Schrenker had bailed out of the plane near the town of Harpersville, Alabama, where he just happened to have one of those rent-a-sheds. In that shed was a motorcycle. After successfully landing, he hitched a ride to a motel with the local cops. He gave them his own, real name and claimed he'd been in a canoe accident. They had no reason to suspect him - his plane hadn't crashed yet. Schrenker spent the night in a local motel room (again, under his own name!), then split town on the bike in the morning, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that Stevie Wonder could have followed.
He traveled south on the bike, ending up in a campground in Quincy, Florida. There, the police closed in. The cops were able to trace him through a wireless connection he used at the campground to send an email to a friend. Heh. Big Brother *is* watching! (They can also easily use your cell phone to track you if you're dumb enough to leave it on while on the lam.)
Bizarrely, Schrenker stuck to his story in the email, claiming that he really did have an explosive decompression, and that bailing out of the plane was “an accident.” What?! How does one “accidentally” bail out of a plane? Planes are not equipped with, and pilots do not routinely carry parachutes. Anyway, by the time the cops got there, Schrenker had already slit his wrist in an apparent - this time genuine - suicide attempt. [Edit: He failed, and is currently in the hospital.]
Now that Schrenker’s businesses have collapsed, many people have reportedly lost their investments. Schrenker, meanwhile, lived a good life: airplanes, nice cars, nice house, beautiful wife (who’d recently filed for divorce, unfortunately). Here is a picture of Schrenker in presumably happier times.
I don't know much about money. I don't have much of it and certainly couldn't tell you where would be the best place to invest yours. And if I could, I wonder if I'd be smart enough to know which company was legitimate and which was just a scam?
I fear that we are going to see more events like this, as the economy gets worse and more “money management” companies fail. I just hope that the guys who head up these companies are not pilots.
Pensacola News Journal Article on Schrenker
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