Pilot survives plane crash in Lake Huron, treading water for more than 16 hours before being rescued

Boaters spot pilot treading water & rescue him

HARBOR BEACH, Mich., (WXYZ) - Boaters from Grosse Pointe Farms are still amazed they spotted and rescued a missing New York pilot in Lake Huron Wednesday morning.

Pilot Michael Trapp is recovering after being rescued from the Lake Huron waters 16 hours after his plane crashed.

"He was quiet, and very shaky because he was cold still," said Gary Veenstra. Veenstra was on his boat when the yacht that rescued Trapp pulled into the marina at Harbor Beach.

He said the 42-year-old pilot was alert and in good spirits despite his agonizing night and fight to stay alive.

"He joked that if a skinny 13-year-old girl could swim across the English Channel, then he could do it too," said Veenstra.

Trapp was in a 1966 Cessna 150. He was flying from Gouverneur, New York to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin on a business trip when he started having fuel problems at 3,000 feet.

Trapp was in contact with Lansing Flight Service between 6 and 7 p.m. Tuesday when he declared an emergency, and crashed about 17 miles east of Harbor Beach.

It was not until 10:23 am Wednesday that Trapp was spotted, floating in the water.

Owners of the rescue yacht told Action News by phone they were heading to the Upper Peninsula on vacation from Grosse Pointe Farms when they saw Trapp waving his sock over his head to grab their attention.

"He said he had already taken his pants off because they were too heavy. So he was in his undershirt and undershorts," said Dean Petitpren.

"Of course, from the boat [he] looked like a pineapple in the water. We got the boat around, came along side him, and threw him a ring and got him aboard," explained Petitpren.

"We were in 45-feet of water, calm seas, and warm water -- thank God for him," said Petitpren. "He was really on his last leg. It looked like he was going down he said. His eyes were starting to shut. So, it's definitely a miracle."

Dean Petitpren and his wife Diane were traveling to Presque Isle Wednesday morning with several friends on their boat "Eagle's Nest."

Petitpren told Action News that they'd been talking about the missing pilot and knew they were boating through the area where his plane had been reported missing.

"Five minutes later my wife said, 'I see somebody!" recalled Petitpren.

Despite spending the night treading water without a life jacket, the pilot was alert and in good spirits. He was even able to crack some jokes upon his rescue.

"He was happy and he was talking a lot," said Petitpren. "I asked him if he wanted some water at that point, and he said, 'No, I've had enough water,' he laughed.

Petitpren said Trapp also said he was planning to drive back to New York -- no more flying.

"He said it had been a beautiful evening [in the water]. The stars were gorgeous," Petitpren said.

The Petitprens and their friends are still overwhelmed that they saved a man's life.

"I just went to see my wife downstairs," Petitpren told Action News over the phone. "She's still bawling, because she found him, saw him, spotted him. It was pretty emotional for all of us," he said choking up slightly.

Dean Petitpren said he has not boated through these waters in several years.

"We left at 7:00 a.m. Great timing," he said. "A happy ending."

Once he freed himself from his seatbelt, Trapp told the coast guard the plane sank within 20 seconds. He then treaded water for over 16 hours.

Trapp had swam 15 miles through the night, and toward lights on the horizon when was finally picked up about a mile and half from the shore.

"We got him on the boat, got him warm, and got him some food," said Petitpren. Trapp was transported to the hospital in stable condition.

Trapp told the Huron County Sheriff's Department he was on his way to the Bad Axe Airport for a fuel stop when he crashed. Trapp had been transported from Harbor Beach Hospital to Covenant Hospital in Saginaw in good condition to undergo some testing.

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