GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The pilot of a small Cessna that crashed in Lake Michigan ishospitalized in good condition, but an active search continues for the other fourpeople onboard the flight.
Jerry Freed was pulled from the water just beforenoon by a nearby fisherman about five miles north-northwest ofLudington.
At 10:17 a.m., the Coast Guard received calls from a fishingvessel that witnessed the crash and from the Ludington AirportTower. It's not clear if the vessel that called in the accident isthe same vessel that rescued Freed.
The sheriff departments of Manistee, Ludington, Mason and Oceanaall responded, and the US Coast Guard launched a search for theplane using a helicopter and two boats.
The search is set to continue until at least sunset, officialssaid at an afternoon press conference at the Ludington Coast Guardstation. The press conference was conducted by Mason Countyundersheriff Tom Trenner, Michigan State Police Lt. Dave Roesslerand 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 founddebris and medical gear. There are between 50-60 searchers fromdifferent agencies all looking in the area.
Alma Public Schools Board of Education President Tony Costanzotold 24 Hour News 8 he believes the people that are missing areschool Superintendent Don Pavlik, his wife Irene, Dr. James Hall and pilot Earl Davidson were all on board the plane when itcrashed.
Costanzo said he spoke with Irene Thursday night and she saidDon and her would be flying with Freed on Friday to Minnesota. Hedid not witness anyone board the plane, but said he has everyreason to believe they were all on the flight.
The Cessna 206 is believed to have sunk into thewater, about 250 feet deep at that point. The Michigan State Policeare bringing in deep-water sonar to aid in the search.
The temperature in Lake Michigan is in the 70s, butrescue crews are not sure how long the four can survive in thewater.
The pilot, Freed, was wearing a life jacket and had been inthe water about 45 minutes when he was found. He was conscious andalert, though groggy, when he was picked up by the fisherman. He'sin Memorial Medical Center of West Michigan.
Freed was able to tell authorities the single-engine plane was about halfway across Lake Michigan and turnedaround after experiencing engine problems andheadwinds.
Authorities with the Mason County dispatch center told 24 HourNews 8 they received a call from the Minneapolis Air Control that aCessna 206 lost an engine and crashed into Lake Michigan.
A map of the plane's flight path from flightaware.com suggests problems developedabout one-third of the way into the flight when the westbound planedoubled back over Lake Michigan and then had a steep decline inaltitude near Ludington.
The plane is privately owned by Freed's constructioncompany in Alma, and left the Gratiot Community Airportfor the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota at 9 a.m. Friday.
Carol Freed, who owned the plane along with herhusband, Jerry, said her husband was on the plane with friend andpilot Earl Davidson. She said they regularly flew peopleto the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on a volunteer basis.
"We've all been to Mayo Clinic for various reasons," CarolFreed, of Alma, told The Associated Press. "A lot of people cannotget a flight there due to time constraints and cost."
Freed is well-known in Alma for his medicalmissions.
"He's always been willing to help, been very active in thecommunity," Alma City Manager Phillip Moore told 24 Hour News8. "He's done a number of flights of mercy for lots of years, Idon't know how many years, but he's been doing it for many, manyyears."
Moore said it's been hard to be composed throughout the day.
"Alma's a smaller community. I suspect that most of theresidents will know one or all the people that were in the plane sotoday there have been a lot of tears from people concerned aboutwhat's happening. It's really striking just about everybody in townin one fashion or another."
This isn't the first time a medical flight has crashed in LakeMichigan. A Survival Flight plane carrying donor organs for adouble lung transplant operation crashed in June 2007 into the lakenear Milwaukee on its way to the University of Michigan HealthSystem hospital in Ann Arbor. All six people on board the Cessna550 Citation were killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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