Is it SOP to recover downed planes from underwater?

I’ve been reading in the news about a small plane that went missing in Michigan last Friday. According to news reports some debris has washed on shore, so presumably they are underwater, somewhere in Lake Huron. I don’t know much about Hurons’ geography, including depth, but I’m wondering what SOP for search and rescue is in these cases. How long do they continue to look for the wreckage? If its found, will someone recover the plane for investigative purposes? Do they just remove the bodies? I have no idea what happens in these circumstances.

I think as a general matter, if it’s physically feasible and not cost-prohibitive, they try to recover planes which go down in the water. It’s often the best way to recover any bodies, and the NTSB (I think that’s the agency) can then more thoroughly investigate what caused the crash.

I worked with somebody that lost her father to a plane crash in Lake Michigan. They tried about five times over a year to recover the body. The last try that would be attempted they succeeded. The plane is still in the lake. Unless it will be a hazard, or they are easy to recover, wrecks of any kind stay there.

What if someone decides it’s worth their time to recover the plane? How do the salvage rules work?

I don’t know about new wrecks that are not under investigation, but older shipwrecks are protected in the Great Lakes. There is no finders keepers rule like the oceans in international waters. I would expect the insurance company to recover a new wreck if it was feasible. One thing to remember is the water has very bad visibility, and below a couple feet stays very cold all year. The lakes are very deep too with only Lake Erie having an average depth that falls into a relatively safe diving depth.

I suggest you contact the coast guard to ask about the rules for the Great Lakes.

Speaking of water crashes, when was the last time airline passengers had to use the life jackets? And have the seat cushions ever been used as a flotation device?

Most recently, probably the Ethiopian Airlines incident which ended in a hijacker flying a 767 into the Indian Ocean, off the Comoros. A number of passengers survived, and must have had help floating to shore.

The co-owner of the Michigan plane, a close friend of the occupants, has been posting about it on an aviation message board I frequent. It’s been upsetting for him and for all the participants. He reports that all indications are that it was another JFK Jr. incident.

To the general question, it all depends - if the NTSB needs the wreckage to determine the cause, they’ll try to retrieve it if physically and financially feasible. It generally requires Coast Guard or Navy help, which may not be available. Otherwise, it’s left to the families and the insurance companies. If there is extensive publicity or political pressure, that also affects the decision - they wouldn’t normally have retrieved JFK Jr.'s plane, for instance.

The people in the plane in Michigan were friends of mine. I actually flew with her not too long ago. Thats why I ask.

This sounds so hollow, but you do have whatever condolences I can offer you on the loss of Karen and Brooke. I am very sorry.

Thanks. They were both great people and I will treasure my memories of the times we spent together.

A documentary on that crash suggested that some passengers inflated their life belt/jacket before leaving the plane, making it harder for them to escape the wreckage.