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Video: Friend: Pilot ‘always running from something’

  1. Transcript of: Friend: Pilot ‘always running from something’

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But first, the latest on a bizarre plane crash in Florida . Investigators say the crash appears to be an orchestrated stunt. Late Tuesday night , they captured the pilot behind it. Well, in a moment, we're going to talk to one of his friends , and he will reveal the contents of an e-mail that he claims he received from Marcus Schrenker after the crash. But this morning, Schrenker is in a hospital in Tallahassee , and that's where NBC 's Michelle Kosinski has the very latest on this bizarre story. Michelle , good morning to you.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good morning, Meredith . The investment manager and stunt pilot from Indiana is here in the hospital with a bad cut to his arm that looks to be self-inflicted. US marshals picked him up last night at a campground about 140 miles away from where his plane went down. The thing is, police don't think that's where he went down. They think somewhere over Birmingham he put his plane on auto pilot and then parachuted out, letting the plane crash on its own. In fact, when military jets were scrambled to find Schrenker , they actually saw his plane flying apparently by itself with the cockpit dark and the door wide open . Now, the question is, did this start out as some kind of an attempt to fake his own death or take his own life? Marcus Schrenker is a guy who knows how to pull off a stunt. Here he is in better, though maybe equally treacherous times, performing at an air show .

    Mr. MARCUS SCHRENKER: It's a very high-G routine that has a lot of gyroscopic recession maneuvers in it.

    KOSINSKI: This YouTube video was posted two weeks ago of him flying under a bridge in the Bahamas . Well, the trick he's accused of pulling this week left his plane looking like this. And police say they think he meant to do that, really.

    Sergeant SCOTT HAINES (Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office): There was no blood present in the plane and the seat belts were intact.

    KOSINSKI: Marcus Schrenker , the high-flying 38-year-old investment manager from Indiana , owner of a multimillion-dollar home, had just lost $1/2 million in a lawsuit against one of his companies, was being investigated for allegedly bilking clients out of possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, and was due to appear next week before the state insurance board. Add to that his wife filed for divorce and Sunday night police say Schrenker flew his six-seater to Florida , making an emergency call over Birmingham , saying his window shattered in midair and he was bleeding badly. Then silence. But what turned out to be the unmanned turboprop crashed in Milton , Florida , less than 200 yards from houses. But Schrenker didn't just vanish into thin air . Police say he turned up later in rural Alabama in the yard of Richard Ferguson , who didn't want his face shown.

    Mr. RICHARD FERGUSON: He was wet from about four inches above his knees down, you know. He wasn't muddy or nothing.

    KOSINSKI: He says Schrenker told him he had been in a canoeing accident. Police say Schrenker then checked into this hotel under another name, last seen running into the woods . But there's more. Now police say they found out Schrenker had prior to all this stashed a red motorcycle in a storage unit not far from Birmingham . Inside it they found his wet clothes, but no motorcycle, and once again, no Marcus Schrenker . Investigators say when Schrenker recovers, he'll likely face charges related to securities fraud and the plane crash , too. Meredith :

    VIEIRA: Michelle Kosinski , thank you very much . Tom Britt is that friend of Marcus Schrenker 's. Tom , good morning to you.

    Mr. TOM BRITT (Friend of Marcus Schrenker): Good morning.

    VIEIRA: More of a business friend, right, than a personal friend, but you've known him for several years.

    Mr. BRITT: Yeah. Well, we live in the same hood. We live around Geist Reservoir and so you kind of get to know people. It's a small community and Marcus bubbled up a few years ago as a good friend of mine .

    VIEIRA: Or you think you know him, right? Tell me as much as you can about this guy.

    Mr. BRITT: Yeah. He's, you know, the Marcus that I knew...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Mr. BRITT: ...was the guy that was taking pictures at the football games , giving pictures to the parents, snowplowing neighbors' driveways for them, just an all-around community guy, giving back, sponsoring events for local charities. But there's this other Marcus Schrenker that you kept hearing stories about. This was the guy that you would hear about draining somebody's pool next door just out of spite. Or he would -- there's a legendary story about him driving a pontoon boat off Geist Reservoir 's dam. So that side of the story never synched up with the Marcus that I knew.

    VIEIRA: That you knew, yeah. Did you have any idea that he was in trouble, either from a business point of view or a personal point of view with his wife?

    Mr. BRITT: No.

    VIEIRA: None.

    Mr. BRITT: That came out of nowhere. When we found that out just recently, that was a shock, I think, to everybody.

    VIEIRA: So there were no red flags along the way for you, where you though, hm.

    Mr. BRITT: Not on a personal level, but I think on a business level, I think Mark always had -- he was always running from something, it seemed like. He always was nervous. You'd go by his office, and he had either been up all night and he's always stressed out. And I think -- he would tell me at times, we'd have coffee together and he would just say how much stress he's under. And I think the market tanking like it has over the last few months has just added more pressure to what was already an inevitable snowball going downhill.

    VIEIRA: So he leaves Indiana in this plane , this single-engine plane on Sunday.

    Mr. BRITT: Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: Did you know he was going on a trip at all?

    Mr. BRITT: No. I didn't know that.

    VIEIRA: No idea.

    Mr. BRITT: Unh-unh.

    VIEIRA: Monday night you turn on your computer and an e-mail pops up and it is from him, right?

    Mr. BRITT: Right. Yeah. We had been following the story all day. I got a call early in the morning that a plane that belonged to him had gone down, and I knew immediately something was up. It just didn't smell right. And so that night I get an e-mail at my computer, and I just -- my heart stopped when I got this e-mail from him.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. And the first thing it says is, "Dear Tom , you are the only person I am going to contact, and I hope you will set the record straight ." Why did he pick you to tell his story?

    Mr. BRITT: I don't know. I think I've always given Marcus the benefit of the doubt , and I think that's why we had such a good relationship, because I wouldn't let those stories interfere with my relationship with him. But secondly, I was the only -- I was the closest thing to a news outlet that he had or knew, and he -- I think he entrusted me to try to get his story out as best I could as to his side of the story.

    VIEIRA: Well, his side of the story, he says that this was an accident. I mean, you know, the side -- the pilot's window, I guess, imploded, he was cut up. He had to get out of the plane . He didn't mean to send it off to crash, nothing like that.

    Mr. BRITT: Right, right.

    VIEIRA: He was defensive about his business dealings. He said that he was scared, essentially.

    Mr. BRITT: Right. Right.

    VIEIRA: You now know from the police that that may not be true, that they believe he was staging his own death. So do you believe any of this e-mail now or do you think you were being duped?

    Mr. BRITT: Well, I think a lot of us have been duped.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Mr. BRITT: I would like to believe that the Mark that I knew and loved is the guy that did all this, but as more facts come in that discredit all the information that he was giving me in this e-mail, but discredit also the things he'd told me in the past about his business, it makes it harder and harder to believe that. I think the victim here is his family and the kids. I mean, I -- as a community, we feel terrible for them. We see Marcus on TV doing these stunts and things and we know what he's done and we've kind of known the stories, but there are victims back at Geist that we just feel terrible about.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. I'm sure everybody does. Three young children...

    Mr. BRITT: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: ...and his wife, who filed for divorce, I think, left him.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/14/2009 9:39:39 AM ET 2009-01-14T14:39:39

The Indiana financial consultant who was captured at a Florida campsite after allegedly crashing his plane to fake his own death led a double life, hiding malicious acts and financial troubles behind a mask of community activism, one of his best friends said Wednesday.

“On [a] business level, Marc was always running from something, it seemed like. He always was nervous,” Tom Britt said of Marcus Schrenker during an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in New York.

Schrenker had sent Britt what seemed to be a suicide e-mail on Monday, the day after his six-seater turboprop plane crashed in Florida after he had radioed for help. After stopping in a local motel, authorities believe Schrenker made his way to Birmingham, Ala., where he recovered a red motorcycle he had stashed in a storage unit last Saturday.

On Tuesday, U.S. Marshals found Schrenker at a campsite in northwestern Florida. He was bleeding heavily from a deep cut to his wrist.

One man, two faces?
Britt and Schrenker were neighbors and friends in a wealthy enclave at Geist Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind.

“The Marcus that I knew was the guy taking pictures at the football games and giving pictures to the parents; snowplowing driveways for them, just an all-around community guy, giving back, sponsoring events for local charities,” Britt told Vieira. Schrenker also owned a stunt plane and performed at air shows and other events.

But Britt had heard other tales about his friend that were radically at odds with the good-guy image Schrenker cultivated.

“This was the guy who you’d hear about draining somebody’s pool next door, just out of spite,” Britt said. “There’s a legendary story about him driving a pontoon boat off of Geist Reservoir Dam. That side of the story never synced up with the Marcus that I knew.”

‘Just didn’t smell right’
Schrenker’s plane crashed about 200 yards from a residential neighborhood on Sunday night. Britt got a call Monday morning alerting him about the crash.

“I knew immediately that something was up. It just didn’t smell right,” Britt said.

That night, an e-mail popped up on his computer. It came from an unfamiliar Web-based address, but it was from Schrenker.

“My heart stopped when I got this e-mail,” Britt said.

The e-mail began with a “Dear Tom” salutation. “You are the only person I am going to contact and I hope you will set the record straight, or to the best of your ability,” it continued. “My family is surely hurting at the recent events and I hope you can do what you can to help distribute the facts as necessary.”

TODAY
The wreckage of Marcus Schrenker’s plane was found in a Florida bayou.
In the e-mail Schrenker related an elaborate story about the plane crash, claiming a window that had been previously damaged blew in and knocked him out. He claimed that when he came to, he was befuddled by lack of oxygen in the cockpit and donned his survival suit and parachute and bailed out after sending a distress call.

Pilots of a plane sent up to intercept Schrenker’s aircraft reported seeing an open cockpit door and no lights in the cockpit.

Money and marriage troubles
Schrenker then blamed business associates for the financial problems that had led to a half-million-dollar judgment against him and charges of defrauding investors of several hundred thousand dollars.

Finally, he wrote about his wife, Michelle. “Michelle is a great woman,” he wrote. “Life has been very hard for me and Michelle has certainly felt the brunt of my stress and problems. I hope you will clear her name of any wrong doing. She filed for divorce on December 30th, 2008 … and I deserved it. I still love her deeply and I am so sorry for how terrible I treated her.”

He then wrote as if he intended to commit suicide. “Tom, I have been under so much stress that I have not felt good in some time. Nothing is clear and my thoughts are surely blurred. I have embarrassed my family for the last time and by the time you read this I will be gone. I can not bear the magnitude of the pain I have caused Michelle and the kids. It is true that I have wanted to end my life for sometime.”

He ends with an apology and an observation: “I'm sorry again. I never meant to hurt anyone.  When life becomes too much people do stupid things.”

Hard to believe
Vieira asked Britt if he felt that he had been duped by his friend.

“I think a lot of us have been duped,” Britt replied. “As more facts come in that discredit all the information he was giving me in this e-mail, but discredit also things he’s told me in the past about his business, it makes it harder and harder to believe that.”

TODAY
Tom Britt, a friend of Marcus Schrenker, received an e-mail from the businessman in which Schrenker claimed that the crash of his plane was unintentional.
Schrenker was involved in three financial management firms: Heritage Wealth Management Inc., Heritage Insurance Services Inc., and Icon Wealth Management. On Dec. 31, law enforcement officials searched his home for computers and records relating to the businesses.

Two days before the crash, a federal judge levied a $535,000 judgment against Heritage Wealth Management, according to The Associated Press, which has also reported that Schrenker faces fraud charges as well as charges of public endangerment by abandoning his airplane and allowing it to crash.

Schrenker was being treated in a Florida hospital for his injuries and is expected to be charged when he is discharged into police custody.

“I think the victim here is his family and the kids,” Britt said. “As a community, we feel terrible for them … We know what he’s done. We’ve kind of known the stories.”

Of Schrenker’s wife, Michelle, Britt added, “It’s a bad situation for her. It’s got to be terrible.”

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