by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There were two news-making plane crashes this past week. Miraculously, no one died in either one.

But while the passengers of a US Airways jet were overjoyed to see rescuers in the frigid waters of the Hudson River, a pilot named Marcus Schrenker was much less happy.

Schrenker, flying over Alabama last Sunday, radioed that his Piper PA-46 turboprop was having trouble. He said his windshield had imploded. Then, without telling air traffic controllers, he parachuted out, leaving his plane to fly on auto pilot until it finally crashed in the Florida Panhandle.

When authorities found the plane smashed into a tree, they searched for a body but none could be found.

That’s because Schrenker apparently already had hopped on a motorcycle he’d hidden in the Alabama woods and had driven off to what he hoped would be a new life. Everybody’s fantasy?

Now, there are a lot of ways to start over. This was a bit extreme. Then again, Schrenker was reportedly a charmer of the highest order, who used his style, looks and mouth to woo clients for his investment company.

He had a stunning blond wife, three children, a $4-million home in Indiana and his own plane.

And then it all went bad.

Investigators began looking into his business, on suspicion that he charged exorbitant fees without informing his clients. They charged him with several felony counts. He also was reportedly being investigated for securities fraud. And last month, his wife filed for divorce, claiming he’d had an affair.

Everybody has a breaking point. Apparently for Schrenker, his old life was not worth fighting for. He preferred to ditch his mistakes, ditch his plane and ditch his existence.

Now, there is a lesson here, I suspect, because America today is a place where many of us would like to ditch it all and start over. Many of us feel we’re being forced to.

Our bank accounts have shrunk like laundry mistakes. Our jobs have been wiped out, as have our offices and even our companies. We have lost cars. We have lost homes. We have lost self-esteem. We have lost confidence.

How many of us have fantasized about ditching it all, skipping out on our debt, leaving behind our dependents, going someplace warm to start again with no responsibilities? The meaning of life

But we don’t. And why not? Because while we may have lost almost everything else, we’ve managed to hang onto hope. And appreciation. And a sense of honor. And perspective. We face our troubles. We believe things will improve. And we know as long as there is a child to hold, a spouse to hug and food to be eaten, we’ll be OK. Many don’t even have that.

Schrenker had that and more. But he apparently didn’t appreciate it. He allegedly was ready to commit fraud, but not at all ready to accept the consequences. And he would rather have been dead to his children than face them as less than what he’d pretended to be.

In the end, that’s how he was found anyhow, hiding in a tent in a Florida campground, bleeding from a self-inflicted wrist wound that was likely a suicide attempt. He’ll face charges. He’ll face shame. He may face jail time.

Now contrast him with those US Airways passengers who survived the water landing and leaped onto rafts to be rescued. When their plane was going down, when the pilot told them to brace themselves, at that moment, if you had asked them if they had to give up their money and their business and take responsibility for whatever they’d done wrong in life in exchange for surviving – don’t you think they’d have hollered “DEAL!”

A plane crash almost killed those passengers. Fate spared them.

Schrenker faked a plane crash.

Fate caught him in the end.

I’m betting some of those New York passengers boarded that plane feeling lousy about their lives. And I’m betting they got off those rescue boats feeling a whole lot better.

Too bad Schrenker couldn’t appreciate that before bailing out.

He’d be in much less trouble.

And he’d still have a plane.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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