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Authorities: Pilot who bailed from plane under securities probe

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  • NEW: Indiana judge freeze's pilot's assets at investigators' request
  • Pilot faked emergency, jumped from plane before it crashed in Florida, police say
  • Pilot's business under investigation in Indiana, official says
  • Sheriff's office: Pilot Marcus Schrenker checked in to hotel under false name
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By Josh Levs
CNN
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(CNN) -- A man whose financial management business is under investigation faked a life-or-death emergency in his private aircraft before secretly parachuting out and letting his plane crash in the Florida panhandle, authorities said Monday.

The Piper PA-46 crashed near Milton, Florida, but the pilot was spotted in Alabama, authorities say.

Marcus Schrenker exited his small plane before it crashed, and investigators are looking for him, police say.

The pilot, identified as Marcus Schrenker, 38, later checked into a hotel in Alabama under a fake name and then put on a black cap and fled into woods, authorities in Alabama said, according to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office in Milton, Florida.

Authorities are searching for Schrenker.

The manager of the airport in Indiana from which the six-seat Piper PA-46 took off Sunday said that no one else was on board at takeoff.

The plane crashed Sunday night in a swampy, wooded area within 50 to 75 yards of some homes in East Milton, Florida, the sheriff's office said. Video Watch more on the mysterious flight »

An Indiana judge on Monday froze Schrenker's assets at the request of investigators looking into his business dealings, said Jim Gavin, spokesman for the Indiana secretary of state.

Public documents list Schrenker as president of an Indianapolis agency called Heritage Wealth Management. Records also show Heritage Insurance Services at the same address. The address is listed in the telephone directory as the site of Icon Wealth Management.

Those three companies are under investigation for possible securities violations, according to Gavin. A search warrant was served in connection with that investigation December 31.

The judge's asset-freezing order, which applies to Schrenker's wife and his three companies, is aimed at protecting investors, Gavin said.

CNN's attempts to reach a representative for Schrenker were unsuccessful. The phone number for his business was disconnected, and public records do not list his home phone number.

Schrenker "appears to have intentionally abandoned the plane after putting it on autopilot over the Birmingham, Alabama, area and parachuting to the ground" Sunday night, the sheriff's office said in a news release.

The plane crashed at 9:15 p.m. CT on Sunday in a swampy area of the Blackwater River in East Milton, authorities said.

It's unclear what time Schrenker made the earlier distress call. He told air traffic controllers that the window of his plane had imploded and he was bleeding profusely.

That call came in when the aircraft was about 35 miles southwest of Birmingham. Controllers tried to tell the pilot to divert the flight to Pell City, Alabama, but he did not respond. The plane appeared to have been put on autopilot around 2,000 feet altitude, said Sgt. Scott Haines, a spokesman for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office.

The plane had been scheduled to land in Destin, Florida, authorities said.

After the call came in, military aircraft were dispatched to intercept the plane. The jets spotted the Piper and deployed flares to illuminate the plane as it was flying and noticed that its door was open and the cockpit was dark, according to the Santa Rosa authorities. The jets continued to follow the plane until it crashed. Rescuers searched the area where the plane went down and began a search for the pilot.

Meanwhile, Schrenker reportedly was more than 220 miles north of the crash site.

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office got a call at 2:26 a.m. Monday from the Childersburg Police Department in Alabama saying that a white male, identified as Schrenker by his Indiana driver's license, approached a Childersburg officer at a store.

Schrenker, who was wet from the knees down and had no injuries, told the officer that he had been in a canoeing accident with friends, the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office said in a news release. Schrenker had goggles that looked like they were made for "flying," according to the release.

The Childersburg police didn't know about the plane crash, so they took Schrenker to a nearby hotel, authorities said. When police found out about the crash, they went back to the hotel and entered Schrenker's room. He was not there, they said.

According to Santa Rosa authorities, Schrenker had checked in under a fake name, paid for his room in cash and "put on a black toboggan cap and ran into the woods located next to the hotel."

CNN affiliate WVTM obtained surveillance video from the Harpersville Motel that WVTM says shows Schrenker checking in. It also shows Schrenker putting on a black cap and leaving, the station reported.

Harpersville is 30 minutes east of Birmingham, and about 223 miles north of Milton, Florida, near where the wrecked plane was found. iReport.com: Are you near the crash scene? Tell us what you've seen

Federal investigators were helping in the probe.

"The FBI is looking into the matter, along with other agencies," said Paul Draymond with the Birmingham, Alabama, FBI office.

Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said a "detailed review of radar data" and the fact that the plane had switched to autopilot suggested the pilot might have parachuted.

The corporate plane does not have an ejection feature, said Steve Darlington, the airport manager of the Anderson Municipal Airport in Anderson, Indiana.

Darlington described the pilot as "accomplished" and said he owns "a couple of airplanes" and flies regularly.

All About Destin (Florida)Federal Aviation Administration

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