LUDINGTON, Mich. — The pilot of a small plane on its way to the Mayo Clinic with four others on board was rescued by a boater in Lake Michigan on Friday hours after the plane lost power and crashed just a few miles from shore, authorities said. A search for the four passengers was under way.
The pilot, who was not identified, told the boater who pulled him from the water that the others — three men and one woman — were still in the water, Mason County Undersheriff Tom Trenner told reporters. Authorities will search for the four “as long as we can,” Trenner said.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathaniel Parks said the plane went down shortly after 10 a.m. a few miles off the shore of Ludington, a resort town on Michigan’s west coast. The pilot was pulled from the water by the boater about two hours later and was taken to a local hospital where he is in good condition.
Water temperatures and conditions will have a lot to do with whether other survivors are found, Ludington Coast Guard Station Chief James Hendricks said. Waves in the area of the crash were 2 to 4 feet high, and the wind speed was about 18 mph. Hendricks said the temperatures likely were in the 70s.
“They can survive for a while. There’s always a chance to make rescues,” he said.
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The Cessna 206 left Alma, about 150 miles northwest of Detroit, Friday morning en route to Rochester, Minn., said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory. Parks said the crash was reported by a witness as well as a distress signal from the plane via satellite.
About 10 minutes before the plane went down, the pilot reported a loss of power to an air traffic controller at the Minneapolis Center, the FAA said. At the time, it was overcast with light winds and visibility of about 10 miles, the National Weather Service said.
A map of the plane’s flight path from flightaware.com suggests problems developed about one-third of the way into the flight when the westbound plane doubled back over Lake Michigan. It then made a steep decline in altitude near Ludington.
“They turned around because they had a strong head wind,” Trenner said. “With a tail wind, they thought they would make it back to land.”
Carol Freed, who owned the plane along with her husband, Jerry, said her husband that was on the plane with friend Earl Davidson. She said the two, both pilots, regularly flew people to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on a volunteer basis.
“We’ve all been to Mayo Clinic for various reasons,” Carol Freed, of Alma, told The Associated Press. “A lot of people cannot get a flight there due to time constraints and cost.”
She said she could not provide more information on the crash, including details on the search efforts. She said everyone on the plane was from the Alma area.
Davidson’s stepson, Zach Everett, declined to speak with about the crash when reached at Davidson’s home until the family had information confirmed by the Coast Guard.
The small plane took off about 9 a.m. Friday from Gratiot Community Airport south of Alma, said airport assistant manager Lucas Locke, who was not sure whether Freed or Davidson was piloting the craft.
“Both were in the front seat of the airplane,” Locke said, adding that he didn’t know who else was in the plane.
Friday’s crash was unsettling for many pilots in the area because they know one another, he said. Freed and Davidson had been volunteering with organizing an upcoming airport open house,
“A lot of people have been coming out to see what’s been going on; coming in to see if we’ve heard any news yet,” Locke said.
Friday’s crash wasn’t the first time a medical flight has plummeted in Lake Michigan. A Survival Flight plane carrying donor organs for a double lung transplant operation crashed in June 2007 into the lake near Milwaukee on its way to the University of Michigan Health System hospital in Ann Arbor. All six people on board the Cessna 550 Citation were killed.