Updated: Saturday, 24 Jul 2010, 10:19 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 23 Jul 2010, 12:01 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The pilot of a small Cessna that crashed in Lake Michigan is hospitalized in good condition, but an active search continues for the other four people onboard the flight.
Jerry Freed was pulled from the water just before noon by a nearby fisherman about five miles north-northwest of Ludington.
At 10:17 a.m., the Coast Guard received calls from a fishing vessel that witnessed the crash and from the Ludington Airport Tower. It's not clear if the vessel that called in the accident is the same vessel that rescued Freed.
The sheriff departments of Manistee, Ludington, Mason and Oceana all responded, and the US Coast Guard launched a search for the plane using a helicopter and two boats.
The search is set to continue until at least sunset, officials said at an afternoon press conference at the Ludington Coast Guard station. The press conference was conducted by Mason County undersheriff Tom Trenner, Michigan State Police Lt. Dave Roessler and Chief Jim Hendricks of the Ludington Coast Guard Station.
The search is centered about 3.5 miles off Big Sable Point in an area where crews have found debris and medical gear. There are between 50-60 searchers from different agencies all looking in the area.
Alma Public Schools Board of Education President Tony Costanzo told 24 Hour News 8 he believes the people that are missing are school Superintendent Don Pavlik, his wife Irene, Dr. James Hall and pilot Earl Davidson were all on board the plane when it crashed.
Costanzo said he spoke with Irene Thursday night and she said Don and her would be flying with Freed on Friday to Minnesota. He did not witness anyone board the plane, but said he has every reason to believe they were all on the flight.
The Cessna 206 is believed to have sunk into the water, about 250 feet deep at that point. The Michigan State Police are bringing in deep-water sonar to aid in the search.
The temperature in Lake Michigan is in the 70s, but rescue crews are not sure how long the four can survive in the water.
The pilot, Freed, was wearing a life jacket and had been in the water about 45 minutes when he was found. He was conscious and alert, though groggy, when he was picked up by the fisherman. He's in Memorial Medical Center of West Michigan.
Freed was able to tell authorities the single-engine plane was about halfway across Lake Michigan and turned around after experiencing engine problems and headwinds.
Authorities with the Mason County dispatch center told 24 Hour News 8 they received a call from the Minneapolis Air Control that a Cessna 206 lost an engine and crashed into Lake Michigan.
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 and then had a steep decline in altitude near Ludington.
The plane is privately owned by Freed's construction company in Alma, and left the Gratiot Community Airport for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota at 9 a.m. Friday.
Carol Freed, who owned the plane along with her husband, Jerry, said her husband was on the plane with friend and pilot Earl Davidson. She said they 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."
Freed is well-known in Alma for his medical missions.
"He's always been willing to help, been very active in the community," Alma City Manager Phillip Moore told 24 Hour News 8. "He's done a number of flights of mercy for lots of years, I don't know how many years, but he's been doing it for many, many years."
Moore said it's been hard to be composed throughout the day.
"Alma's a smaller community. I suspect that most of the residents will know one or all the people that were in the plane so today there have been a lot of tears from people concerned about what's happening. It's really striking just about everybody in town in one fashion or another."
This isn't the first time a medical flight has crashed 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.