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Flight instructor was arrested before vanishing with plane

PALO ALTO, Calif. - A California flight instructor who allegedly stole a small airplane and then vanished earlier this month was arrested on the other side of the country just weeks prior to his disappearance.

Court records indicate William James McAdams, 24, of Palo Alto, Calif., was arrested on April 24 in Orange County, Fla., on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and battery.

William James McAdams CBS San Francisco

He was released April 27 on $16,000 bond and was ordered not to have any contact with the alleged victim. The next day, he entered a written plea of not guilty and waived his right to an arraignment, which had been scheduled for June 2.

His attorney in the case did not immediately return a call for comment.

Authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area say McAdams was last seen early on Friday, May 8 when he took off in a 2011 G1000 Skyhawk 1TG single-engine plane from Palo Alto's municipal airport.

He was tracked flying south off the coast in Central California about eight hours after he went missing, according to the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles Times reports that hours later, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received information from the plane's emergency distress beacon, but no location was given.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the paper that it's possible the distress call was unintentionally activated, or it could have been triggered if the plane crashed into the sea.

McAdams owns Fly High Aviation School, which operates out of the Palo Alto airport, but the plane was leased to another flight school where he works, the AP reports. According to CBS San Francisco, he took the plane from that flight school without permission.

Palo Alto Police Sgt. said it's possible McAdams may have traveled as far south as Mexico but that authorities have found nothing significant to suggest that he's in one particular location.

"This isn't an easy investigation because we don't have people in planes go missing all the time," he told the station.

McAdams started an aviation supply company in 2012 in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida and has since expanded it to the Bay Area of California, according to his company website.

He describes himself as "an aviation author, flight instructor, drummer, drum teacher, automobile and aircraft detailer and basketball enthusiast."

McAdams' mother, Stephanie McAdams, told Palo Alto Online that she doesn't know where her son is.

"I'm just praying. I don't know what happened," she said.