Airplane vanishes off Grand Haven coastline without a trace

One of the most famous disappearances in the past century is that of female aviator Amelia Earhart, who vanished into history July 24, 1937. Her remains and wreckage of her aircraft were never found.
Kevin Collier
Jan 13, 2014

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.


Former Grandhavenite

The lake is a big place, and even if they'd been sure about the exact area where the plane went down (which isn't clear here) it could still be moved by currents and be hard to find even with sonar. I believe there are shipwrecks and other plane wrecks that have been down there for decades without being located. This is the most likely scenario.

If the last recorded movement was the plane heading west and turning to the south, he could have dropped below radar coverage and proceeded to any landing strip or airport in the Chicago or northern Indiana area. It would be interesting to know (assuming he took off from Toledo and flew the route described) which airports would have been within range based on how much fuel he would have had left at the last radar contact.

The idea that he just stole the plane and disappeared seems farfetched unless there was something else in his background that would motivate him to do this.


Not the only one, Northwest Airlines 2501 was lost in 1950 somewhere off South Haven. It also has never been located. It carried 58 people onboard.




As watchingyou points out, another famous and mysterious crash. However, aircraft parts, luggage, and human remains were retrieved in Lake Michigan off the coasts from South Haven down to Benton Harbor in that case. In the case of Hysong, not a single piece of his plane or a trace of Hysong was ever recovered.

Former Grandhavenite

In reading up on this I discovered that apparently there's a region known as "The Michigan Triangle" where there is a perception that more disappearances and odd things happen to planes and boats. I'd never heard of this before. It would be interesting to see if there have historically been more of these happenings than would be expected for an area of similar size and traffic.

One of these times when I get back up to the area I'd love to do some scuba diving/wreck exploration. After living near the lake for all those years I never got to try it.


You've never heard about the UFO base out in the middle of Lake Michigan??


They'll find it when they put the wind farm there.

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