What do you do when you’re charged with beating and restraining a woman you were on a date with? Well, if you’re a 24-year-old flight instructor, you could just decide to steal a plane and make for parts unknown.
At around 1 a.m. on May 8, police think that’s what William James McAdams decided to do.
According to police, McAdams took a single engine Cessna 172 G1000 SkyHawk without permission from his employer at the Palo Alto Municipal Airport, blasting off into the night sky and, so far, disappearing without much of a trace. The plane’s last known location, transmitted via an emergency beacon, was about 70 miles off the south coast of Santa Cruz, leading investigators to presume McAdams was headed south. The beacon could have been activated accidentally, or triggered via a crash into the ocean.
Authorities have contacted airports in California and Mexico in search of McAdams and his borrowed plane, but so far no luck. (Although officials admit he could have landed on a private airfield.) At sea, the Coast Guard claims the potential range of landing spots based on wind, fuel, and possible speed variables—over 120,000 square miles—is simply too wide for any sort of intensive effort on their part.
“That’s an extremely large area. Typically, we can search with a combination of aircraft and rescue boats an area between 100 and a couple of thousand square miles,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Bill Colclough told Palo Alto Online. “We can saturate an area of that size.”
The potential search zone stretches from Nevada to all of Northern California and back down to Los Angeles.
Searching such a broad expanse, however, would “emaciate Coast Guard resources and personnel.” Instead, they have issued a “call-out,” which asks every vessel in the region be on the lookout for a sign of the missing plane. Beyond that, they have called off any official search. The FAA, FBI, and Mexican Coast Guard are also aware of McAdams’ disappearance, but Palo Alto police are currently leading the investigation.
McAdams was out on $16,000 bond stemming from an April 24 incident in Orange County, Florida, where he was arrested for second-degree aggravated battery with a weapon, misdemeanor battery, and felony false imprisonment. According to the affidavit on file, the victim claims she and McAdams got into an argument at their Disney World resort hotel, and he assaulted her with a knife when she tried to leave. The police were called in response to her screams for help.
McAdams was scheduled to be arraigned on June 2, and court documents show he was going to enter a written plea of not guilty.
The plane he was flying featured a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit integrated instrument system, an upgrade over the standard Cessna 172, and offered several advanced navigational options and system failsafes.
These recent events are described as out of character for McAdams, and his family is holding out hope for a safe return.
“I’m just praying. I don’t know what happened,” his mother, Stephanie McAdams, told Palo Alto Online.
“Just want to know you are safe, we need you… I love you …” his sister reportedly posted to Facebook.