When it comes to Ottawa County, a similar mysterious disappearance took place — the case of Jim Hysong Jr., a 20-year-old experienced pilot vanished off the Grand Haven shoreline nearly 21 years ago. A body was never recovered and to this day not a trace of airplane wreckage has ever turned up.
The last glimpse anyone had of the Ohio native was on March 15, 1993, around 10:15 a.m., when Hysong climbed into the cockpit of a rented 1974 Piper Cherokee airplane and took flight out of the Toledo Suburban Airport.
Hysong was headed to Jackson County Airport, Mich., where he was scheduled to take a test on to become a flight instructor. The first indication of trouble was when his plane bypassed the airport by several miles. Hysong's plane continued on, making a sharp left, passing Grand Rapids then Grand Haven, and headed out over Lake Michigan.
Hysong's aircraft was picked up by the Coopersville radar station flying west at an altitude of 6,700 feet approximately above Lincoln Street. According to newspaper reports, while offshore over the lake, the plane began a “standard left bank as if beginning a descent” to the Holland Airport. The last radar signature of the plane, at 11:38 a.m., placed it 11 miles southwest of Grand Haven at an altitude of 2,100 feet.
However, a Coopersville station representative stated the plane was approximately three to five miles off the shoreline flying at an altitude of 6,700 feet when radar contact was lost.
Either way, Hysong's 83-minute flight then ended abruptly with no apparent cause.
An extensive and lengthy search was engaged by authorities who sought any trace of Hysong or his aircraft. The mission proved futile and it dumbfounded lead case investigator Al Snow.
“I just can't believe the whole plane would have gone down without something turning up from it after all this time,” Detective Sgt. Snow of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department told the press.
Over 1,800 square miles had been searched in the week that followed the disappearance. Hysong's parents privately employed a Chicago firm using advanced wide-sweep sonar equipment to scan a wide swath of Lake Michigan, which revealed nothing.
An FAA official in Chicago reported no radio contact from any airport control tower with Hysong had occurred during his flight — radar tracking only. And, the Emergency Landing Transmitter, a beacon signaling an emergency landing or crash, had not been detected.
Volunteer aviators from the Michigan Chapter of the Civil Air Patrol flew missions over Lake Michigan and the West Michigan coastline searching for airplane wreckage, but found nothing.
After six weeks the search was officially called off — but the case remains open.
The story resurfaced in 2003, on the tenth anniversary of Hysong's disappearance. There was not much new to report — even after the 20th anniversary, last year.
An issue of debate has always been if it was Hysong's Piper Cherokee airplane that was tracked on radar passing first near Lansing on its path to Grand Rapids, then Grand Haven, before flying over Lake Michigan. Hysong has failed to file a flight plan, thus it was only believed to have been Hysong's plane tracked.
The official line from the National Transportation Safety Administration concluding an investigation was that the plane was missing and Jim Hysong Jr., was presumed dead. But, it added they could find no evidence of a crash site or reason for a crash.
Speculation of what happened began early and still lingers to this day. One theory was Hysong had crashed the plane on purpose to take his own life. Another theory was Hysong stole the plane, and disappeared by flying below radar detention to an undisclosed destination. However, no Jim Hysong sightings have been reported since he vanished.
In 1994, every part serial number of the Piper Cherokee airplane was entered into national crime and law enforcement databases, which track stolen aircraft parts. Since then, not a single piece of the plane has ever popped up.
Eerily, four pilots have used the identifying tail number of Hysong's plane — N15206 — during radio weather checks or during refueling. The FAA investigated all and failed to find any hard evidence of the plane's existence or eyewitnesses seeing that tail number. Investigators concluded the pilots simply misspoke.
A lesser-known theory as to the plane's possible whereabouts came from a psychic. Receptive to anything at the time, investigators interviewed a person who “saw the plane” in a mental vision. The psychic claimed Hysong had crashed in Wampler's Lake, on a path between Adrian and Jackson, Mich. However, a search of the lake revealed nothing.
It still remains a mystery as to what happened to Jim Hysong or his plane after he flew over Ottawa County headed out over Lake Michigan and into history.