Friday, March 8, 2013

Aircraft vanishes nearly 36 years ago over land, hasn't been seen since

For nearly 36 years, the fate of John and Jean Block has been one of the state’s greatest mysteries.

On July 4, 1977, the couple left Macomb Airport in Macomb County, planning to meet up with one of their sons in northern Michigan to celebrate the holiday together. Their destination was the Lost Creek Sky Ranch Airport in Luzerne, MI.
They never made it. And they haven’t been seen since.

Jean and John Block
They took off in perfect weather conditions at about 11 a.m. and were never seen again. While the fact that the couple simply vanished is mysterious, the fact that the plane, which almost certainly crashed on land in Michigan, has never been found is remarkable.
Ross Richardson, owner of the michiganmysteries.com website, believes the couple’s plane went down in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. While that area of the northern Lower Peninsula is rural and remote, it only seems logical that someone would stumble across a wrecked plane sometime in the ensuing 36 years.

“Yes, either hiker or hunters. It’s probably in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, which is a very remote location. And some of these areas probably haven’t been seen since they were logged 100 years ago,” Richardson said, who spoke on the subject at the 32nd Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival in Ann Arbor on March 2 while discussing the topic “Michigan Mystery Disappearances.”
Block, the longtime fire chief at U.S. Army TACOM, was a resident of East Detroit, now Eastpointe. He had earned his pilot’s license in 1947 after serving in World War II. He didn’t have an extraordinary amount of flight time, maybe 470 hours, (about 200-300 after 1970) but was rated as a stunt pilot and would practice barrel rolls and other stunt maneuvers along with safety procedures.

“That was our entertainment as kids,” said his son, John Jr. “Other kids would go on vacation. We would head out to the airport and go for a ride and have our dad scare the heck out of us.”
John Jr., a retired sheriff’s deputy in Grand Traverse County, said his dad wasn’t instrument rated, so he would use road maps and would follow major highways to get to his destination. And while his fateful flight may have been one of his longest trips, he had been doing more “cross-country” type flights and had flown to Traverse City three or four times.

The flight left at that morning with perfect flying conditions. The Blocks had planned to meet up with their son Mike and his family in Luzerne in the early afternoon. When they didn’t show up, Mike called John Jr. in Traverse City to see if they had gone there instead. When a missing person’s report was filed, search parties began an exhaustive search that wouldn’t bear fruit. An FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) investigation was launched.
The Block's 1969 Cessna 150 (Photos courtesy of John Block Jr.)
John Jr., then 31 and active as a sheriff’s deputy, aided in the search, often getting down on his hands and knees, combing the ground looking for evidence. He and his wife spent the next 10-15 years scouring the suspected crash zone with fliers and posters pleading for any information or eyewitnesses that might help them find the downed plane. They followed tips that ended with dead ends.
They sought the help of psychics, who told them the aircraft went down in a swampy area in the Isabella Indian Reservation in Isabella County near Mount Pleasant. Eventually, all trails ran cold.

Macomb County Probate Court issued death certificates for John and Jean Block in April 1978. The family held a memorial service on July 24, 1978, a little more than a year after they disappeared.
John Jr., now 66, believes one of two things happened that caused his parents to crash their 1969 Cessna 150: First, they ran into bad weather that moved into the northern Lower Peninsula that afternoon and early evening. But the weather would have only been a factor if the couple got lost and their flight time extended by a couple of hours. Second, John Block, 57, had some kind of medical emergency. His mom, Jean, 55, did not like flying and didn’t know how to pilot the plane. He doubts it was a mechanical failure.

“It was a pretty reliable plane, with not many hours on it,” John said. “My dad suffered from diabetes and high-blood pressure. I was really surprised he passed his last couple of annual physicals.”
The flight path, north of West Branch, is indeed some of the most remote, uninhabited and swampy locations in all of the Lower Peninsula. The Mio and Huron Shores districts of the Huron-Manistee are in the area, and, despite the fact that they are public lands, they don’t get an overwhelming amount of foot traffic. And in such a thickly wooded area, the Cessna would have been ripped apart by tree branches and hit the ground in pieces with virtually no hole made in the tree canopy.

Block said there are also “immense” parcels of private land that are full of swampy ground and are uninhabited, except for an occasional cabin or cottage. It’s quite possible the plane was swallowed up in a swamp pit, never to be seen again.
“It’s not somewhere where you would be out two-tracking,” he said.

Today, John Block realizes the odds of finding the missing plane and his parents are long. But he holds out hope someone will come across the plane with white wings and orange tips, and a green and white fuselage with the tail number N50935. He points out that any pieces of aircraft found today would indicate an unidentified aircraft, since crash scenes are completely cleaned of debris after they have been investigated.
“I still hope every day to hear some news,” Block said. “It would be nice to have some closure. Finding my parents is definitely at the top of my bucket list.”

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