Since February 2018, Oceanographer Gregory Busch of Busch Marine in Freeland, Michigan, (pictured above) has joined ranks with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) to renew the search for the remains of Flight 2501.
Busch Marine brings new sonar equipment, a unique search methodology, and even a 3-man submarine to document the wreckage when found. Busch Marine offers international marine services including a certified research submarine, remote control underwater vehicles, hydrographic surveys, side scan sonar search and recovery services, cargo barge transportation, dredging, and marine construction. The three-man submersible, certified to 1,000 feet, can be chartered for film production, research, salvage, inspection of pipelines, cables, dams, bridge footings , wrecks, and pollution assessment.
Busch and Valerie Van Heest, author of the book Fatal Crossing and board member of MSRA, have been poring over data amassed over the decade before the book was first released. Prior searches resulted in ruling out some 640 square miles that initially seemed promising. But the partners’ new interpretation of the data has focused the search on waters farther offshore in deeper water.
MSRA with its prior partner had previously been working out of South Haven, Michigan, but the new partnership has relocated its base of operation to St. Joseph, Michigan. The search began in May 2018 and will continue until the wreck is found.
Gregory Busch is volunteering his and his firm’s time, talents, boat, and equipment for the project. His firm’s equipment includes a custom-built sled to house a Marine Sonic Sonar, Imagenex sonar, and a Mesotech sonar, plus still and video cameras. The Munson Hammerhead 30, a thirty-foot aluminum survey vessel, has two cranes, a winch, and cable reels for use in deploying and retrieving the sonar sled. Busch Marine operates remote operated vehicles and three-man submersible that will be used to document the wreckage if found.
Funding for fuel has been donated by long-time MSRA member Richard Sligh and South Haven-based pilot Tony Penrose. Eric Johnstone of Anchor’s Way Marina on Marina Island in St. Joseph has donated travel lift launch services and a slip for the survey vessel.
In 2004 Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) began a joint venture project with nationally acclaimed author/explorer Clive Cussler, who operates the nonprofit organization National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA), and mounts expeditions around the world to find the world’s most famous lost vessels. Cussler funded the survey services of sonar operator Ralph Wilbanks, of Diversified Wilbanks, (pictured in the background) his wheelsman Steve Howard, and additional crew members, sending them to South Haven, Michigan, to conduct sonar surveys in collaboration with MSRA within a 500 square mile area of probability developed by NUMA.
During the research phase of this project, MSRA board member Valerie van Heest, who later wrote the book Fatal Crossing, has located almost all 58 families who lost a loved one in this accident. The search proceeded with a renewed importance to offer closure to those families.
Between 2004 and 2013, while NUMA conducted side-scan sonar operations for about one month each spring working out of South Haven, Michigan, the team did not find the wreckage of the airplane, but Wilbanks did locate nine shipwrecks, while covering some 600 square miles. MSRA researched, dived, and documented those shipwrecks, and those wrecks are profiled elsewhere in this website.
Cussler discontinued his team’s participation in 2013, but new leads developed by the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association drew him back in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to continue the hunt. Wilbanks found two new shipwrecks, again documented by MSRA, but Flight 2501 remained elusive.
Concurrent to it work with NUMA–and with NUMA’s approval–MSRA partnered with Great Lakes wreck hunter David Trotter of Undersea Research Associates to conduct expeditions in a different area of about 50 square miles south of the original search grid. In 2013, 2016, and 2017 MSRA and Trotter covered 80 percent of the new search area, but still did not turn up the wreckage.
In 2018, Cussler and Wilbanks announced that they will not be continuing in the search effort. MSRA continues to work with David Trotter with a focus on locating other missing shipwrecks.