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Local pilot missing in Florida

Lecanto, Fla. -- It's been more than two weeks since a local pilot went missing in the skies over western Central Florida.

Ted Weiss, 74, of Hopewell, took off from the Marion County Airport on April 5 after an experimental plane meeting.

Headed back to his vacation home in Zypherhills, the roughly 77-mile trip should have taken about 40 minutes, but Weiss never made it to his destination.

A veteran pilot, Weiss has been flying for 50 years, and fellow pilots at the Hopewell Airpark said he is an expert mechanic. They have no idea what could have happened to Weiss or his Sonex plane.

A massive multi-agency search, both on the ground and in the air, hasn't turned up any clues about his disappearance. It is a mystery that's captivated communities both in Florida and Hopewell.

"Everybody is just sort of wondering what's going on, you know what happened to him," said Steven Fiester, Weiss' neighbor.

Fiester watches over the pilot's home while he winters in Florida. Usually, Weiss comes back to Ontario County in May, but now Fiester doesn't know if he'll ever see his friend again.

"He flew through a dead spot between the radars and they lost him and they haven't been able to find his wreckage or him or anything," said Fiester.

In between two Florida counties, Weiss flew into a dead zone where there is no radar. The aircraft was last detected somewhere over Withlacoochee State Forest, a densely wooded area that spans more than 150,000 acres. It's an area investigators said a small plane could easily disappear with hardly a trace, comparing the search to finding a needle in a haystack.

Fiester said he's heard from Wiess' friend in Florida that tried to volunteer to help in the search but were turned away because of the dangerous terrain.

"They said that they can't get through the wildlife refuge down there," Fiester said. "They have to use machetes just to get the horses through."

Authorities used machetes to comb 3,000 to 4,000 acres of thick woods, but on April 12, five days into the search, investigators pulled out of the forest and cancelled the ground search.

While investigators said they've exhausted their efforts on foot, air searches will continue with new ground searches to be conducted as needed.

More than 1,000 miles away, friends said they feel helpless as they continue to hold onto hope that Weiss will return to his home Hopewell. Fiester said waiting for answers from Florida has been difficult.

"It's just kind of strange, you know," he said, "you know him and to not know where he is or what's going on."

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Washington Times