20 year old Jim Hysong was last seen as he climbed into a two-seat plane at Toledo Suburban Airport on March 15, 1993. He had rented a 1974 Piper Cherokee Arrow for a short trip to Jackson, Michigan, where he planned to take a test to become a flight instructor. Even at his young age, Hysong was an accomplished pilot.
Investigators have two theories about what happened that day: either Hysong decided to commit suicide for some unknown reason by crashing the airplane into Lake Michigan, or he stole the aircraft with the intention of selling it.
According to Federal Aviation Administration radar logs, a plane piloted by Hysong took off from Toledo Suburban about 10:15 a.m. and climbed to an altitude of 4,800 feet as it headed northwest. But the plane bypassed Jackson Airport to the east by several miles. The plane continued past Grand Rapids and Grand Haven and went about 15 miles out over Lake Michigan before disappearing about 83 minutes after the flight began. Volunteer pilots from the Michigan Chapter of the Civil Air Patrol searched from the air for wreckage of the plane for six weeks, first on land and then on water. Nothing was ever located.
Every part of the $40,000 airplane was listed as stolen and entered on the national databases of the Law Enforcement Information Network and the National Crime Information Center in July, 1994. Since then not a single piece of the aircraft ever has turned up.
On four different occasions, the Federal Aviation Administration reported instances of pilots around the country using the identifying tail number of the missing aircraft, N15206 , either during radio weather checks or purchasing fuel. None of the FAA investigations into the four reports resulted in any hard evidence or even eyewitness accounts of an aircraft with that tail number. The tail number remains on the FAA’s list of missing or stolen aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Cleveland, Ohio, Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) having responsibility for the area between N15206’s departure point and its last presumed contact stated a radar target was observed departing the Toledo Suburban Airport, Lambertville, Michigan, on March 15, 1993, at 1006 EST. He stated the aircraft had a non-discreet transponder code and was not positively identified as N15206 since there was no communication between the aircraft and ARTCC.
The FAA representative stated the flight path and altitude of the aircraft was erratic. The flight path involved turns with descending and ascending spirals of various altitudes. The ARTCC representative stated the aircraft’s last radar contact was Latitude 42 degrees, 52 minutes, 12 seconds North and Longitude of 86 degrees, 20 minutes, 12 seconds West. The representative stated the aircraft was approximately three to five miles west of Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, and four miles south of the Coopersville, Michigan, radar site tracking south-southwest at an altitude of 6,700 feet when radar contact was lost. The plane and pilot have not been seen since.
The following newspaper article ran in the Toledo Blade newspaper on March 14, 1994, a year after Hysong’s disappearance:
CASE OF MISSING PLANE, PILOT HYSONG STILL A
PAINFUL MYSTERY A YEAR LATER
BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
(BLADE map by Deryl Dunn; Source: Michigan Civil Patrol)
A year ago tomorrow, Jim Hysong climbed into a rented airplane for a flight to Jackson, Mich. He was going to take a test to become a flight instructor.
An accomplished pilot, the 20-year-old Sylvania Township man took off from Toledo Suburban Airport in the 1974 Piper Cherokee Arrow about 10:15 that chilly Monday morning.
It should have been a routine 20-minute flight, but the flight was anything but routine.
Mr. Hysong never arrived in Jackson, or anywhere else as far as authorities can determine.
His disappearance has left a thorn in the sides of family, friends, and investigators who wonder: What happened to Jim Hysong?
“We searched for six weeks,” said Lt. Col. Leslie Stephens, director of emergency services for the Michigan Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
“We followed a lot of leads and nothing really ever came up,” Colonel Stephens said.
Mr. Hysong was passionate about flying. He had attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., for a year in hopes of getting into its flight school, but didn’t make the requirements.
Still, he had gained extensive flying experience in Florida, and had begun flying from Toledo Suburban in January, 1993.
Mr. Hysong never filed a flight plan for his 55-mile flight to Jackson last March 15, but a plane — believed to be the one flown by Mr. Hysong — was tracked on radar flying from the Whiteford Township, Michigan, airstrip about the time Mr. Hysong took off.
The plane, however, didn’t fly anywhere near Jackson. Instead, it flew north, near Lansing, and then almost due west over Grand Rapids, Mich., and beyond before vanishing from radar screens over Lake Michigan at 11:38 that morning.
In its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board could find no evidence of a crash site or reason for a crash, but issued a preliminary ruling that the airplane was missing and its pilot, Mr. Hysong, was presumed dead.
But the official explanation was never enough for Mr. Hysong’s family or the investigators who worked on the case.
“We continue to search for an answer for Jim’s disappearance,” said his father, James Hysong, Sr. “We spent a large part of the last year doing just that — searching. We’ll never stop following up on ideas until we do get an answer, but to date, we have no more answers than we did a year ago at this time.”
The disappearance of Mr. Hysong has bothered Colonel Stephens. There were problems with the search, he explained — a loss of valuable time that he feels may have made the difference in solving the mystery.
The Civil Air Patrol began searching for Mr. Hysong’s aircraft a few hours after it failed to show up in Jackson. Initially, ground and air units searched only in Lenawee and Jackson counties, along what they believed was Mr. Hysong’s flight path.
But it wasn’t until three days later that the patrol received a final report from Midwest radar centers that showed the plane may have gone as far west as Lake Michigan.
That meant that if Mr. Hysong did go down in Lake Michigan as the NTSB believes, it was nearly four days before the coast guard began searching for evidence of the crash. That’s enough time for parts of the plane to sink or an oil slick to dissipate.
That, of course, is if the plane that was picked up on radar was indeed flown by Mr. Hysong.
“We have to be pretty precise on the time the aircraft departed, then the [radar] centers go back and research the tapes from that time,” Mr. Stephens said. “Normally, my experience with that is it’s about 80 per cent of the time that they’ve got everything right.”
The other 20 per cent is what gives Colonel Stephens his margin of doubt, and a reason to continue to search.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure that that was our aircraft. There is a possibility it could have gone down somewhere else, like in one of the many lakes in the area, and we couldn’t have found it,” he said.
Monroe County sheriff’s Detective Al Snow has been trying to find the missing airplane since Mr. Hysong was reported missing. His investigation also is no closer to being closed today than it was a year ago.
“I have ideas and I have my theories about what happened,” Detective Snow said. “All I can tell you is that he and the plane are still out. To be honest, I don’t know where the plane is.”
Detective Snow has refused to believe Mr. Hysong and the missing plane went into Lake Michigan last March.
“I’d like to find this guy. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the plane is still out and that he is still alive,” Detective Snow said. “I wouldn’t think that plane could disappear off the face. of the earth.”