On April 5, 2014, Theodore T. Weiss, a 74-year-old experienced pilot, departed the Marion County Airport on his way to Zephyrhills. Weiss never made it to his destination. When he didn’t return home, friends reported him missing after they found his car still parked at the Zephyrhills airport and his airplane hangar empty.
Weiss was an experienced pilot who frequently flew to New York, where he lived part of the year. His plane was a small, single-engine Sonex two-seater aircraft. It was described as a popular “kit” plane that was built by hand in the early 2000s by Dave Fortuna, a pastor in Louisiana. According to Maj. Joseph Tomasone of the Florida Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, Weiss had been in Marion County for the second annual Spring Sonex Fest.
Between 120 and 135 people took part in the search for Weiss and his plane, 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. The search proved difficult as Weiss’ last coordinates were somewhere over the dense Withlacoochee State Forest. After searching for nearly 20 square miles, the ground search was suspended.
The crash site was found 6 months later by a hiker walking in the woods near Pruitt Trailhead, just 2 miles from where Weiss initially took off. Weiss’ skeletal remains were strapped in the seat of the aircraft.
After two years and what they described as an extensive and labor-intensive investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report stating they could not pinpoint the cause of the plane crash. The plane wreckage remains out in the woods possibly due to it being so far in the woods.