In 2011, New York pilot Michael Trapp, 42, was flying his two-seat Cessna over Lake Huron en route to Wisconsin when he experienced mechanical problems. Trapp issued a mayday call before losing contact with aviation officials at 5 p.m.
Trapp was going down but had the wherewithal to open the driver’s side door before crashing. The impact caused the plane to flip over, and Trapp escaped the aircraft seconds before it sank. And so began Trapp’s 17-hour ordeal in the water without a life jacket—17 miles off the shore of Michigan’s Thumb.
Coast Guard Station Harbor Beach launched a search and rescue mission in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies. Civilian assets also aided the search.
Night came. Darkness descended.
Throughout the night, Trapp intermittently treaded water and attempted the long swim to shore. Crossing the shipping lane, a freighter almost ran him over. While he escaped injury, sadly the ship’s crew did not spot him. Undefeated, Trapp continued to swim for shore.
Meanwhile, search crews persisted looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The following morning, Dean and Diane Petitpren were out in their fishing boat two miles off shore in 45 feet of water when Diane spotted something—or rather, someone—extraordinary. Trapp had taken his socks off and was waving them over his head in an attempt to heighten his visibility.
The Petitprens rescued Trapp from the water around 10:30 a.m., about 17 and a half hours after his plane crashed. The Coast Guard rushed to the scene to find Trapp hypothermic, fatigued, and struggling but in good spirits.
Trapp later stated he planned to drive back to New York.
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