Pilot cheats death twice

Some people have been fortunate enough to survive a plane crash. Others have been stranded miles from shore without a boat and lived to tell the tale. Forty-two-year-old Michael Trapp just survived both. CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds has his story.

The hospital is the last place Michael Trapp thought he'd end up when he left home on Wednesday.

The upstate New York auto shop owner intended to fly his Cessna 150 solo to Detroit. Four hours in, he had engine trouble near the Canadian border and crashed into Lake Huron. He was lucky to have survived a 3,000-foot plunge into the relatively balmy 70-degree waters.

"When I got out of the plane, I was swimming," said Trapp. "I was underwater and when I got to the surface, only the tail was sticking up. I just grabbed the tail for a second and said goodbye to her and watched her go down."

Along with it, his emergency beacon sank. It would have alerted the Coast Guard to his location 17 miles from shore.

Plane crash survivor cheats death twice
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All alone and without a life vest, he spotted a smoke stack and set his sights on getting there. He alternated between swimming, treading water, and floating on his back and stomach. He prayed for a rescue.

"I saw six boats after I crashed," said Trapp. "Before nightfall came, a big freighter came within 50 feet of me, but never saw me and all the other boats were just too far away to hear me yelling."

By nightfall, he was exhausted, but refused to close his eyes.

"If you fall asleep that's your death calling. So I made sure not fall asleep. I kept my eyes open the whole night, watch the stars."

As the hours wore on he began to fear the worst.

"There was times when I thought it was going to happen when I was coughing or gagging and just struggling to breathe," Trapp said. "I thought that might happen, but I was just hoping that a boat was gonna see me."

After 18 hours, one finally did. Two women on a yacht called the Eagles Nest saw Trapp waving a sock. Captain Dean Petitpren pulled him aboard.

"If we would have left five minutes early or later, said Petitpren, "it probably would have been a different story."

"I started crying when they turned around," said Trapp. "I was so happy that they were coming back to get me."

After a boat ride to shore, and eventually getting to the hospital here in Saginaw, Trapp was weak but in fairly good shape. Doctors say he'll be out tomorrow. When he goes home, he intends to make the trip -- by car.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.