ZEPHYRHILLS — A massive search for a missing Zephyrhills pilot and his single-engine airplane continued today, with the focus turning to a section of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County.
The Civil Air Patrol tried to track the flight of Theodore Weiss, 74, and determined the last known coordinates were near Trail 10 in the forest, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office reported.
With that information in hand, searchers began combing an area that still covered 40,000 acres.
Ground units for the Citrus County and Hernando County sheriff’s offices have finished their ground search for the day. Aviation units will continue looking for Weiss throughout the night, officials said. The ground search will resume Thursday morning.
More than 135 people from multiple agencies were included in today’s search.
“This is an extremely difficult search,” Undersheriff Buddy Grant of Citrus County said in a prepared statement. “The terrain is rough and very dense and we have a very broad area to search.
“Thanks to other agencies, we have assembled a huge team to help find Mr. Weiss. We’re in the air, on the ground utilizing ATVs, horses and foot patrol. We’re searching grid by grid and thankfully, the weather is on our side right now.”
Multiple law enforcement and rescue agencies joined the search for Weiss, whose two-seater, experimental-type plane disappeared after he left the Dunnellon Airport in Marion County on Saturday, en route to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
When he didn’t return home over the weekend, worried friends went to the Zephyrhills airport where they found his car still parked and his airplane hangar empty, said Mike Handrahan, manager of the Zephyrhills airport. They then reported Weiss missing, he said.
Weiss had been in Marion County for the second annual Spring Sonex Fest sponsored by the Florida Sonex Association, of which he is a member, said Maj. Joseph Tomasone of the Florida Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. Weiss’ airplane is a Sonex kit plane.
The search for Weiss includes 30 all-terrain vehicles from the Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Sumter, Levy and Marion sheriff’s offices, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In addition, the Citrus and Hernando sheriff’s offices provided helicopters and posse members on horseback, and the Civil Air Patrol and the Florida Forest Service provided fixed-wing aircraft. Community emergency response team members from Citrus and Hernando also joined the search.
Withlacoochee is the third largest state forest in Florida and has dense woodlands created by slash pine, longleaf pine, pond cypress, bald cypress and other tree species, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.