Mayday! One Man’s Story of Surviving a Plane Crash

Could you survive a plane crash for 18 hours treading water without a life vest? Michael Trapp did. Here's how.

By Derek Burnett from Reader's Digest | February 2012

It was 10:30 when Julie Trapp’s phone rang. “Hello?” she said cautiously.

“Is your husband’s name Michael?” Marita Grobbel, the Petitprens’ boat guest, was asking as they sped toward the nearest harbor.

Julie couldn’t bring herself to answer.

“We’ve found him, in Lake Huron.”

“Marita! Tell her he’s alive!” Dean Petitpren shouted.

Mike Trapp was taken to Covenant Healthcare hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, and treated for exhaustion and hypothermia. That evening, he was lying in his hospital bed marveling at his good fortune when he looked up to see Julie standing in the doorway.

“I don’t want to hurt you, so I won’t hug you too tight,” she said.

“Don’t worry about that,” Trapp said, his eyes brimming with tears.

So she hugged him as hard as she wanted to.

According to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force, a person in 60-to-70-degree water can expect to reach exhaustion or unconsciousness in two to seven hours. Trapp’s ordeal lasted 18. He lost seven pounds and spent three days in the hospital recuperating from dangerously high levels of a protein — released by his overworked muscles — that can overwhelm the kidneys. Then he went home, to a hero’s welcome.

Back on the boat, after his rescuers had dragged him out of the water, Trapp was wrapped in a thick, black blanket and given a banana. It was bliss. “This was like the best banana you’ve ever had in your life,” he says. “And I could feel the sun radiating on the blanket and warming my body. I was … there were …” he collects his thoughts. “There are very few moments in your life that are as precious as that. I enjoy my life. I have fun. I’m just not ready to give it all up yet.”

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