Civilians to search for missing plane

The search continues for any sign of this plane, which took off from Ontonagon and went missing over Lake Michigan west of Frankfort with two people aboard Sunday before 8 p.m. Volunteers will continue searching after U.S. Coast Guard personnel suspended their efforts Monday afternoon.

FRANKFORT — Volunteers will comb Lake Michigan’s shores near Frankfort searching for any clues in the disappearance of a single-engine plane that went missing Sunday.

U.S. Coast Guard officers called off their boats and helicopters Monday after searching the waters through the night Sunday and into Monday for the Beechcraft Bonanza. Michigan State Police and U.S. Department of Homeland Security helicopters also couldn’t spot any signs of a crash.

A group of nearly 70 volunteers comprising Benzie County’s and Manistee County’s Community Emergency Response Teams will hit local beaches starting Wednesday, likely making their way from Point Betsie to Arcadia searching for any signs of a plane crash, said Benzie County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Post.

“All indication right now is it probably crashed four miles out into the lake,” said Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel.

He’s also been talking with a leader of a civilian air patrol that may fly and search from above for the missing plane.

Personnel working a Minneapolis regional control tower lost contact with the single-engine plane just before 8 p.m. Sunday and alerted Coast Guardsmen, according to Master Chief Alan Haraf, of the 9th Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office.

The plane took off with two men aboard from Ontonagon in the Upper Peninsula and appeared to suffer engine problems during the flight. Information from Flight Aware, a digital aviation company that operates the world’s largest flight tracking and data system, shows the plane was headed to Monroe.

Traffic control officers tried guiding the pilot to the nearest airport in Frankfort, but it disappeared from the radar about five miles west of Frankfort.

Search efforts have bore no fruit yet, including a probe of an area near Lake Ann Monday afternoon. Schendel said crews went to the area after a father said his daughter heard what sounded like a plane having engine trouble and then a crash.

A Homeland Security helicopter and other searchers looked in the area but found nothing, Schendel said.

Crews searched about 1,400 square miles of land and water so far. Michigan State Police technology could soon check even more beneath Lake Michigan’s waves.

Schendel asked troopers to deploy their autonomous vehicle, which could be used to search underwater in the next few days. Lt. Travis House said it continues going through testing but should be available to use soon.

He said the vehicle is capable of searching the estimated 600 foot deep waters for signs of the crash, covering roughly one square mile per day.

“It’s a valuable tool to have,” he said.

A Michigan State Police helicopter helped with the search Tuesday.

Anyone with information about the crash should contact the Benzie County Sheriff’s Department at (231) 882-4484. Those interested in searching the beaches with Benzie County’s Community Emergency Response Team can call the county’s emergency management office at 231-882-0567.

See www.Record-Eagle.com for updates.