BY GLENN PUIT, MICHAEL WALTON
BELLAIRE — A pilot who failed to show at a Thanksgiving Day gathering in Frankfort perished in a plane crash near a rural airport in Antrim County.
The body of Roger William Crawford, 68, of Mancelona, was found Friday morning in his crumpled Cessna 310B in a wooded area 10 miles east of Mancelona. The crash site is roughly two miles north of Highway C-38, near the Lakes of the North community and its airstrip.
Lakes of the North Airport Manager Scott Brown said Crawford was one of about 30 airport committee volunteers who assist with airport planning and fundraising. Crawford used the community airstrip for the last five years.
"He was just a great guy," Brown said. "We are all in shock."
Antrim County Sheriff Daniel Bean said Crawford was an experienced pilot. He was reported missing Thursday night when he didn't show at a holiday gathering in Benzie County. Bean said Antrim County deputies went to Crawford's home in Lakes of the North but couldn't find him.
"Mr. Crawford was not at the residence, and family then stated that he is a pilot and he may have gone flying," Bean said.
Authorities initiated an extensive search at daybreak Friday and found Crawford's plane in the woods at around 10 a.m. Crawford was dead at the scene.
A Mancelona Fire District engine blocked the entrance Friday to a dirt road leading to the crash scene. Several firefighters stood near the truck or waited inside cars, trying to stay warm while wind whipped snow in the sparsely populated area.
Fire Chief Ed Sayre said firefighters helped stabilize the wreckage and remove Crawford's remains. At least one crew was to remain in the woods with the plane until National Transportation Safety Board officials inspect the crash site.
"It'll be out there for at least 24 hours," Sayre said.
Authorities tried to sift through conflicting information about Crawford's travel plans. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Crawford was to fly from Gaylord to Cadillac at the time of the crash.
Matt Barresi, airport manager in Gaylord, said Antrim County dispatchers called the airport Thursday night for help finding a "plane possibly heading to Gaylord and originating out of Lakes of the North."
"We did look for him at our airport," Barresi said. "We looked to see if he'd been able to come to Gaylord and park. Unfortunately that was not the case."
Gary Schrader was staying at his summer home on nearby Montrose Drive. He did not hear or see any signs of a plane crash.
"We didn't hear (anything) last night," he said.
It was not clear if Thursday's heavy winds played a role. The Gaylord airport measured southwesterly wind gusts ranging from 29 to 35 mph Thursday night.
"Those would be considered high-wind conditions or gusty winds," National Weather Service Meteorologist Keith Berger said.
Fog and low cloud cover — like heavy winds — can make flight conditions more hazardous, but the Gaylord airport recorded unrestricted visibility last night. There was no precipitation in the area, Berger said.