Lake Michigan plane crash that killed Detroit Salt mine president to remain a mystery

The Detroit News
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The National Transportation Safety Board could not determine what caused the airplane crash into Lake Michigan that left two southeastern Michigan men dead, according to its final report.

A one-sentence statement on the crash's probable cause says: "A loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined based on the available information." The final report was dated May 19.

Emanuel Z. "EZ" Manos, president of the Detroit Salt Co., and pilot Randal Dippold died in May 2019 after they reported an engine failure and ditched their single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza about four miles off Frankfort, which is 40 miles west of Traverse City.

Randal Scott Dippold

Records filed with an earlier factual report found the two men appeared to have escaped the aircraft before it sunk, according to the Michigan State Police.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Randal Parros told an FAA official via email that the airplane was found on the lake bottom in relatively good condition 540 feet below the surface, according to NTSB records on the crash. It remains under investigation.

"The nose is slightly buried with the aircraft listing slightly to its port side," Parros wrote May 29, 2019, after MSP found and explored the wreck with a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

"It appears mostly intact, with the exception of the starboard side wing, Parros wrote. "All the windows were in place and the door was open. The occupants had appeared to have exited the plane prior to it sinking."

The email, among the records from the NTSB investigation released in April, suggests the men survived the ditching at about 7:49 p.m. on May 12. Nearby buoys recorded water temperatures of 39 to 42 degrees at the time, which would permit no more than about two hours of survival time, according to charts on hypothermia risks.

The body of Manos was found about 150 feet southeast of the airplane; he had drown. Dippold's body has not been found. The plane also was not recovered.

The U.S. Coast Guard began an immediate search for the missing plane, but found no evidence of wreckage.

Emergency locator transmitters required on every airplane are supposed to activate in the event of a crash, but the records don't indicate whether an alert was sent or received. The ditching of the aircraft, in which a pilot essentially tries to land as gently as possible on the surface, may not have triggered the emergency system. 

The U.S. Coast Guard was activated by air traffic controllers to search even before the plane hit the surface, and it searched that night and next day but found no survivors or wreckage.

The plane was returning from a short turn-around trip to Ontonagon in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula.

It spent just 43 minutes on the ground in the U.P., where Manos was associated with a mining-related company called Evergreen Exploration LLC, which owned the airplane. Manos also was a student pilot.

On the return trip, one that Dippold had made at least four other times since March, the plane was at about 7,000 feet when it reported the engine failure.

Emanuel "EZ" Manos

The  pilots were directed to either Manistee County Blacker Airport or Frankfort, which they chose. "The pilot requested emergency equipment standing by," the NTSB report says.

At 7:43 p.m., they reported having the Michigan shoreline in sight and were cleared to land.

The NTSB factual report, dated April 16, says that records from show the plane left Livingston County airport for the U.P. and was planning to return to the Monroe County airport when it went down. 

The maximum range for the 1967 Bonanza without fuel tank modifications and with no reserve is about 600 nautical miles, according to the American Bonanza Society, an organization of aircraft enthusiasts. The Bonanza had flown at least 525 nautical miles that day, but as many as 625 if it started in Howell and stopped in Monroe before heading north.

Manos, 53, graduated from Riverview Gabriel Richard High School and Michigan Technological University before joining Kiewit Corp. He purchased the Caledonia mine near Ontonagon and returned to Michigan in 1997, where he helped reopen the massive Detroit salt mine. In 2010 he was named president of the Detroit Salt Co. He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Sheri, and seven children.

Dippold, 65, is survived by his wife, Lois, four children and he had 12 grandchildren at the time of his death. He graduated from Pinckney High School and owned and operated Airservice Enterprise Inc. at the Livingston County Airport.

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