Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Ground search for missing Zephyrhills pilot suspended

The ground search for a missing Zephyrhills pilot was suspended Saturday evening after authorities spent a week hunting through Citrus and Hernando counties and miles of densely wooded forest.

Hernando County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Denise Moloney said in a news release that "crews have exhausted our efforts and diligently searched our ground search area."

Air searches for 74-year-old Theodore Weiss will continue, Moloney said, and new ground search requests will be investigated as needed.

Weiss 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 craft dropped off the radar over the Withlacoochee State Forest, and though searchers spent six days combing the woods of Citrus and Hernando, they found no trace of the pilot or his plane.

The Hernando Sheriff's Office emphasized that the search was not over and that authorities would still respond to tips.

"It's important to know that this has not been canceled by any means," Capt. Jim Powers said.

Moloney said the Sheriff's Office ran down leads throughout the day Monday without any luck.

As many as 135 searchers — including law enforcement personnel from Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Sumter, Levy and Marion counties; the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; and the Florida Forest Service — were out last week searching for Weiss in areas authorities believed to be the likely route he would have taken on his way to Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.

Authorities extensively searched for the plane by air.

"I don't have the actual air hours, but it was immense," Powers said.

On the ground, authorities searched on ATVs, horseback and by foot, often trudging through thick vegetation.

In Hernando, the search spanned nearly the width of the county, from U.S. 19 on the west to the Sumter County line on the east. It went as far south as Brooksville, Powers said.

He estimated that authorities searched roughly 20 square miles on the ground.

In Citrus County, the search covered upward of 35 square miles.

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