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Search for missing pilot enters Hernando County

Published:   |   Updated: April 13, 2014 at 12:08 PM

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HERNANDO COUNTY - After four days of searching for a missing pilot in the Withlacoochee State Forest, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office took over as lead agency in the effort Friday.

Theodore "Teddy" Weiss, 74, last was seen taking off from the Dunnellon Airport at about 2 p.m. on April 5. He was flying a fixed-wing, single-engine, Sonex two-seat plane with white and green stripes.

Weiss was reported missing Monday after friends found his parked car at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and noticed that his plane was not in its hangar.

Taking over the search from Citrus County officials was "seamless," said Hernando Col. Mike Maurer.

Part of that is because the counties are "similar in structure and size," Maurer said, but also because members of the command staff of both counties have advanced through the ranks together.

"Today (Friday) we took over jurisdictionally, but when you move there's no purple line in the forest. We just keep going and doing what we do," Maurer said.

Maurer on Friday said the rescue teams were hesitant to speculate if Weiss still was alive.

"That would be claiming defeat," Maurer said. "The reality of it - every hour, every day that passes - it's less and less realistic we find him alive. ... After seven days, any human without food or water has a very low likelihood."

Maurer said the agency planned to push ahead through Saturday then re-evaluate its use of resources.

Hernando County sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney said Friday about 90 people left the Lecanto command post shortly before 9 a.m. to search about 20,000 acres of heavily wooded forest.

Moloney said representatives from nine additional agencies as distant as Sarasota were helping search for Weiss.

"It's nice to have all this help, because we need it," Moloney said. "It's a lot of acreage - very, very dense - so it's hard work for them. We make sure they don't come back injured."

Moloney said she has seen searchers come back with deep scratches from the terrain, and said the all-day search used a lot of energy, so it was important to keep the crews well fed and hydrated.

"It's very depressing to come back every day and not have found him," Moloney said.

Maurer said horse patrols have been an asset in the search. Air teams continue to do surveillance, and as the searchers move south through Hernando County the forest becomes less dense and surrounding areas more populated.

"It's been difficult, we've been working the equipment and folks real hard out here," Maurer said. "It's hot out here, but we're persevering."

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday .com

(352) 544-5283

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