Authorities search for missing Zephyrhills pilot

Published April 9, 2014

Authorities were searching Tuesday for a Zephyrhills pilot last seen Saturday leaving Dunnellon/Marion County Airport.

Theodore Weiss, 74, was bound for Zephyrhills but never reached his destination, according to the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

A representative from the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport confirmed that Weiss never arrived but declined to comment further.

Weiss was reported missing Monday.

The search for the missing plane now involves the Marion County Sheriff's Office, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Air Force, Citrus County Sheriff's Office and Civil Air Patrol.

Maj. Joseph Tomasone is the mission information officer with the Florida Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the United States Air Force. He said Weiss flew into Marion County on Saturday morning for a get-together with other pilots who fly the same type of plane.

"(Weiss) took off Saturday afternoon," he said, "presumably heading home. He never arrived."

Citrus and Hernando sheriff's deputies combed the Withlacoochee State Forest in all-terrain vehicles and in helicopters Tuesday afternoon along Weiss' planned flight trajectory, said Citrus sheriff's spokeswoman Heather Yates. Radar from Gainesville tracks aircraft flying in that part of the state.

Going south over Citrus County, radar from Tampa starts tracking aircraft. The switch makes for a momentary dead zone over the forest, where aircraft is tracked by neither radar system.

That's where Weiss was lost.

"The Withlacoochee Forest is kind of like a black hole," Yates said. "That's what pilots call it."

The civil air patrol has been searching since 2 p.m. Monday.

The plane, Tomasone said, had an emergency locator translator, or ELT, on board, which would activate either on impact or with high gravitational forces.

"There have been no reported signals for the ELT," he said.

It's not unusual, he said, for a small-engine plane to go missing, but he said one thing about the situation struck him as odd.

"The pilot was not on a direct path to Zephyrhills airport," he said. "He was in a more southerly route to Tampa, so we're checking area airports in case he decided to land somewhere else."

The listed address for Weiss is Colony Hills Drive in Zephyr­hills. He also has an address in New York state and is registered to vote in Ontario County, N.Y.

He was certified as a private pilot in December 2005. His pilot license record says he must wear corrective lenses for distance vision and glasses for near vision.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration registry, Weiss' plane type is a fixed-wing single-engine Sonex experimental plane, built from a homemade airplane kit.

According to the Sonex aircraft website, the plane is equipped to hold 16 gallons of fuel.

The plane was issued a certificate by the FAA on Jan. 30, 2012.

According to neighbor Richard Greenshields, 81, Weiss was retired and came to Florida from New York during the winter months. Greenshields said Weiss is a nice, quiet man.

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"He kept to himself and he was friendly to everybody," he said.

Greenshields said Weiss has a garage he used to build an airplane and store motorcycles.

Greenshields said he thought Weiss was planning to go back North on the first of May. He found out Weiss was missing, he said, when two squad cars showed up outside of Weiss' house.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.