Piper PA24

A similar Piper Apache 24

On Wednesday October 10, 1979 a private Piper PA plane is believed to have crashed in Lake Michigan about 25 to 30 miles west of South Haven, Michigan. The pilot, 39-year-old Stewart Thiel Dreger of Palmyra, Wisconsin, was heading to Detroit on a business trip. He was on an instrument flight plan due to the freezing rain and limited visibility and contacted Air Traffic Control at Chicago indicating that he was experiencing some icing problems with the aircraft. Suddenly, the controller lost all contact with the plane. Radar indicated the plane was about 25 miles west of South Haven, at that time.

It was immediately presumed that the plane had gone down in the lake. Air Traffic Control initiated contact with the Coast Guard and the State Police from the four states that border Lake Michigan. An armada of aircraft and boats began a wide search hoping to find indication of the crash, and more importantly, the pilot alive in the water. Coast Guard rescue crews from Chicago, Traverse City, South Haven, and Holland participated in the search.

After covering an area of about 1,500 square miles the authorities could find no trace of the aircraft or the pilot, despite working all day. The search was called off at dark; the plane was presumed lost in water at least 300 feet deep.

The NTSB accident report pointed to icing conditions, caused by sleet and freezing rain, as being responsible for the aircraft’s loss.

MSRA has covered over 525 square miles searching off South Haven, but has not yet discovered the missing plane. It is likely the body of the pilot will still be inside.