WEEKI WACHEE — A renewed search in Hernando County for missing Zephyrhills pilot Theodore Weiss was called off Tuesday afternoon after searchers said they had exhausted all leads.
Hernando County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Denise Moloney said that 19 searchers from the Hernando Sheriff's Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service spent several hours combing the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area in an area of dense forest near U.S. 19 and Centralia Road, north of Weeki Wachee, in response to signals from an emergency locator transmitter.
Over the weekend, Civil Air Patrol pilots began picking up weak and erratic signals that they thought could be coming from Weiss' missing aircraft. Weiss, 74, was reported missing on April 7. He had taken off from Dunnellon/Marion County Airport in a small kit plane two days earlier but never arrived at his destination in Pasco County.
His small, white and green two-seat Sonex plane disappeared from radar over the Withlacoochee State Forest. Searchers spent six days searching the woods of Citrus and Hernando counties but found no trace of the pilot or his plane. The Hernando Sheriff's Office suspended the ground search on Saturday evening.
According to Maj. Joseph Tomasone, a spokesman for the Florida wing of the Civil Air Patrol, pilots in recent days had detected several signals from emergency transmitters in the area, including a weak and intermittent signal believed to be coming from somewhere within Chassahowitzka, several miles west of the original search area. Tomasone said the signal could be from the missing plane, but he couldn't be certain. A weak signal is indicative of a transmitter with a very low battery, he said.
Given the weak signal and dense forest, finding the source would be a tall order, Tomasone said.
Moloney said the Sheriff's Office would continue to track down any leads it receives.
Staff writer Logan Neill contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.