A small plane abandoned with about 100 pounds of marijuana onboard after skidding off the runway at a small private airstrip was recently sold at auction or in an estate sale following the death of its registered owner, authorities said Tuesday.
John Kremmer, chief sheriff's deputy in Waller County, said federal investigators determined the twin-engine plane abandoned Monday at Houston Executive Airport was purchased some months ago, but its new owner apparently didn't reregister it.
The previous owner was from La Vernia, about 23 miles southeast of San Antonio.
"I believe with their assistance we'll be able to track down who purchased this thing at auction," Kremmer said.
The aircraft had not been reported stolen.
"All of this is part of a criminal investigation," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford told The Associated Press. "We are conducting an investigation into the accident as well as assisting law enforcement in determining where the aircraft came from."
Lunsford said when a plane is purchased, the bill of sale includes a new registration form that serves as a temporary registration. It's supposed to be filled out and mailed "before you even leave the ground."
"If not, you're illegally flying the airplane," he said.
Authorities on Tuesday were trying to determine who was flying the plane and whether anyone else was onboard.
Witnesses said they saw at least one man run off into the darkness after the plane made a hard landing at the rural airstrip about 35 miles west of Houston. Officers found the marijuana inside the abandoned aircraft.
Authorities said broken or missing nose gear caused the plane to slide onto the grass.
Lunsford said it appeared the pilot made a landing with the wind behind him.
"That's not good," he said. "What generally happens with a tailwind is you have trouble stopping and can run off the end of a runway, which is exactly what happened. I think the fact he made a downwind landing could indicate he's not the world's best pilot."
Officials removed some items from the plane and moved it Tuesday from the grassy area where it had been abandoned to a hangar.
Andrew Perry, the airport's executive director, said the airport operates without an air traffic controller and officials had no information the plane was expected to land there.