A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

July 2009.

Off the Face of the Earth

                 Is it safe to say that everyone at sometime in their life entertains the fantasy to disappear?   Young children while angry with their parents say they are going to ‘run away from home’.   A little overnight bag often gets packed to reinforce the threat.   In high school, a few of us fantasized about leaving life as we knew it and hiding out in some far away place in anonymity.   Usually that idea surfaced around exam time.

                 The concept is deeply intriguing.   Many books have been written and read about it.   Someone, usually a man, feels the desperate need to uproot himself, his entire life, and change it all.   The books ultimately end with the return to reality, but in real life, they’re still searching for some who pulled it off and got away.   In fact, the U.S. Marshals service has over 3,000 outstanding warrants for people on the run for white-collar crimes.

                  Life in today’s society contains too many checks and records for the average fellow to make a successful disappearing act.   Police, Marshals and bounty hunters have an arsenal containing credit card and cash trails, cell phone records, bank account accessibility, not to mention the experience to place themselves one step ahead of the guy on the run.    To fake his own death, then successfully disappear would involve an incredible amount of planning, much of which was done recently by a private pilot named Markus Shrenker.   He had a good idea for the initial disappearing act.   It was partly because he hadn’t thought out the entire aftermath and what the hiding would involve that he got caught.  Besides that, there was one fatal error in his plan to fake his own death.

                  Markus was an investment advisor/money manager working in the state of Indiana .   When the economy hit the skids in 2008, his clientele and the authorities evidently turned on him and he decided it was time to hit the road.   His plan, and he’s to be admired for this, was to fly his Piper Meridian toward the ocean in Florida , inform air traffic control that he was having a medical emergency, then jump out and parachute to the ground while allowing the aircraft to crash into the sea.   If everything went according to his plan, the plane would never be found, which would conveniently account for the fact there was no body.  

                   Markus had worked out many of the other details quite well.   Prior to the day of departure, he parked a motorcycle and a tent in a storage locker located on his flight-planned route to his father’s home town in Florida .   Once in the air, he radioed that his windscreen had blown out, he was badly bleeding and losing consciousness.   He then bailed out near Birmingham , Alabama .   Two U.S. military jets intercepted the plane which was then on autopilot.   They reported no pilot on board, no broken windows, but the door was open.   Markus had evidently miscalculated his fuel quantity.   That was his fatal error.   The plane crashed before it got out over the ocean, into a wooded area close to a small town.    Authorities combed the wreckage and discovered several clues as to what was really going on.   From a road atlas and camping guide with pages torn out, they were able to piece together the plan Markus had to hold up at a campground while they looked for him further south.   Once they located him, his laptop computer revealed evidence of searches including “how to jump from an aircraft”, and “requirements for a birth certificate”.   Markus was caught red handed.

                    He really had no choice but to plead guilty to the charges of faking his own death and intentionally crashing an aircraft.  

                   It was obvious that Markus had put a lot of thought into his plan.   It was brilliant actually.   Unfortunately, like most other “fugitives”, he hadn’t thought of everything.   Most are caught because of their inadequate preparations for life on the run.   A good supply of cash is the most important resource.   Some form of identification and a purpose for travel and accommodation is always required.   There’s often no place to hide out, and no one to help.   Faking death is probably the easiest part of the whole scheme.    Had the Meridian made it far out to sea, things might have been different for Markus.   He would have at least had a fighting chance to pull it off.

                    This story of escaping by air brings back memories, fond memories for most of us, of D.B. Cooper.   It was back in 1971 when a passenger with Northwest Airlines parachuted from a Boeing 727 he had hijacked, taking $200,000 in cash with him into the dark and stormy night somewhere over Washington state.   Despite hundreds of leads, no evidence has surfaced as to his true identity or whereabouts.   The FBI has if figured out that he did not survive the jump, but this Dan Cooper case remains the only U.S. hijacking that has not been solved.   Many say he’s living on a beach in Mexico , still enjoying the money.   Whether he lived or died, we may never know.   But his last act was a good one!     The incident is high in the ranks of America folklore and he did it in grand style, risking his life in what’s been called one of the most daring crimes in U.S. history.   

D.B. Cooper, or Barry Meek?

               The writers of fiction have their work cut out for them when they start a book about someone who fakes his death and disappears, never to be heard from again.   I doubt I would have the imagination to come up with a story wild enough, yet believable and possible, to have a best-selling book to my credit.   I’ll have to rely on the stories of real-life, and the guys like D.B. Cooper and Markus Shrenker to inspire and entertain me. At the end of the day, truth really is stranger than fiction.    

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