On April 15, 2000, at 1430 eastern daylight time (edt), a Cessna 172S, N560SP, operated by a non-instrument rated private pilot collided with Lake Michigan, two miles west-southwest of Muskegon, Michigan. The pilot and passenger received minor injuries and suffered from hypothermia. The airplane sank in the lake and was substantially damaged. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight originated from Muskegon, Michigan, at 1419 edt.

The pilot stated that the airplane he was flying was one of a flight of four flying to Muskegon for lunch. The other airplanes accompanying him were N8288F, N84063, and N759AT. The pilot stated they departed New Lenox, Illinois, around 0900 central daylight time (cdt) and arrived in Muskegon around 1130 edt. He continued to state that they departed Muskegon around 1400 edt for the return flight back to New Lenox. He stated that one of the other pilots received the ATIS which was reporting a 1,400 foot ceiling, so he requested and received a Special VFR clearance for takeoff. The pilot reported that he knew he was in trouble when the visibility decreased to near zero approximately 10 minutes after takeoff. He stated that he was looking for VFR conditions and was trying to keep the airplane level when it "belly flopped" into the water.

The pilot stated that he and his son sat in the airplane for about one minute prior to it starting to sink. He stated they exited the airplane through the left side window. The pilot stated that upon exiting the airplane they saw a floating tire which they hung onto until they were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The pilot stated that as far as he could tell, the airplane was functioning normally at the time of the accident.

He stated he received a weather briefing on the morning of the accident prior to departing New Lenox. A review of Flight Service Station records indicated that there were briefings issued to N759AT and N8288F, two of the airplane accompanying the accident pilot, however, there was not a briefing issued to N560SP.

A review of air traffic control transcripts revealed that at 1400 edt, N8288F contacted Muskegon Tower and requested a Special VFR clearance for departure to the south. This requested was subsequently followed by the same request from N84063, N560SP, and N759AT. All four airplanes were issued a Special VFR clearance out of the Class D airspace. They were to fly to the south and remain at or below 2,500 feet. N560SP received a takeoff clearance at 1419:51 cdt. At 1422:35, N560SP was instructed to contact departure control. At 1426:03, the local controller commented to the south radar controller, "look at zero sierra papa he's going north bound he's turning back this way." It was then discovered that N560SP had not contacted departure control as instructed. The departure controller then established radio contact with N560SP.

At 1426:49, the local controller stated to N759AT, "cessna niner alpha tango i don't know how much longer the delays gonna be ah your buddy that departed ahead of you is only three miles west right now he keeps going to the west north circling back around and he's only ah two miles of the shoreline right now." At 1426:36 the south radar controller stated "cessna five six zero sierra papa how do you hear." The pilot of N560SP responded, "i hear you (unintelligible) can you tell us where we're at." The controller informed the pilot that he was approximately four miles west of the airport over Lake Michigan at an altitude of 1,300 feet. At 1427:34, the south radar controller issued a heading of 060 degrees for N560SP to return to the airport. At 1429:57, the controller asked the pilot of N560SP what his current heading was. The pilot responded, "ah zero." This was the last transmission from N560SP. The south radar controller reported that radar contact was lost at 1830:39. The Coast Guard was contacted by the Muskegon air traffic control facility.

According to the US Coast Guard (USCG) report, their station in Grand Haven, Michigan was notified by several sources of a downed aircraft in the area. Two USCG vessels responded to the area. The report stated, "...arrived on scene in dense fog and performed search with intermittent shut down of boat engine to hear distress cries of victims." The report continued to state that after four such attempts the victims were recovered from the lake and transported to Muskegon for medical treatment. The Coast Guard reported the water temperature was 39 degrees and the airplane occupants were in the water for approximately 12 minutes prior to being rescued.

The wreckage was recovered from Lake Michigan at a depth of 60 feet after the accident. Inspection of the wreckage by Federal Aviation Administration Inspectors failed to reveal any failure/malfunction which would have resulted in the accident.

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