HARBOR BEACH, Mich. – A New York pilot who crashed into Lake Huron and survived without a life jacket by swimming and treading water for about 17 hours says he was finally rescued Wednesday when he frantically waved a sock to get the attention of people on a boat.
Michael Trapp, 42, said he shed his pants and shoes to stay afloat amid daylight, darkness and high waves off Michigan's eastern coast. He told a TV station that he was inspired to keep going because "there's a lot of people that depend on me."
"It's amazing what goes on in your mind when you're laying in water and you look up at the skies and watch the shooting stars and watch meteorites go round. Gives you time to realize what's important in life at that point," Trapp told WWNY-TV in Watertown, N.Y., from a hospital in Harbor Beach, Mich.
Later Wednesday, he was transferred to a Covenant HealthCare hospital in Saginaw, Mich. There, he issued a brief statement of appreciation.
"Feeling good, really sore from treading water ... anxious to see family, in good spirits, happy to be out of the water," the statement said. "Currently, extremely thankful to the good folks at Harbor Beach and Covenant HealthCare."
The Gouverneur, N.Y., man, who owns an auto repair shop, was flying a small plane alone to a family reunion in Eau Claire, Wis., when his engine began stalling over Lake Huron on Tuesday. He said he contacted the Federal Aviation Administration and declared, "I'm going in right now."
"Holy moley," Trapp thought to himself, "what in the world just went on?"
He told the TV station that he took off his pants and shoes and "just went into survival mode." He doesn't consider himself physically fit at 5 feet 10 inches tall and 200 pounds.
"I kept going, kept going. There's a lot of things I want to do yet," Trapp said.
He said he was unsuccessful in using a credit card to try to reflect the sun and get the attention of several boats that were in the area. Finally, people on a boat called Eagle's Nest spotted him waving a sock around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and pulled him aboard — "by the grace of God," he said.
Trapp believes he swam 15 miles after his two-seat Cessna crashed 17 miles from shore, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Harbor Beach Police Chief Sid Schock said Trapp was "quite chilled" but talking when he was put in an ambulance, about 125 miles northeast of Detroit. He was examined at a local hospital, then transferred about 90 miles to Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw where he was in good condition, spokeswoman Kristin Knoll said.
Trapp told WWNY that he couldn't walk. He did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment about his extraordinary ordeal.
The president of the Harbor Beach hospital, Ed Gamache, would not discuss Trapp's health but said he was talking to doctors and in "excellent spirits."
"It's a remarkable story," Gamache said.
At Trapp's auto garage in Gouverneur, N.Y., there was high praise for the boss.
"He's just strong-willed," Mike Cutway said of Trapp's survival swim.
Jim Dreyer, a Grand Rapids-area man who has swum across Lake Huron and other Great Lakes, said Trapp's weight probably helped insulate him against cold water.
"It's amazing what the human spirit is capable of," Dreyer told the AP.