TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- As the powerless twin-engine jet descended through the most intense lightning storm he had ever seen, George Peck held on tight as strong turbulence jolted him in his seat.
The Saberliner plane finally broke the cloud ceiling just 100 feet above the ground Monday evening, but all he could see for miles was dense forest.
"There wasn't a hint of civilization," he told the Times Herald of Port Huron.
And then boom, he blacked out.
He awoke still strapped into a seat belt, hanging upside down in the overturned fuselage.
First, Peck checked on his friend William Singleterry and found him alive. Peck asked about the pilot, Chase Osborn, and copilot, Brian Champagne.
"They're no longer with us," Peck said was Singleterry's response.
He recalled the harrowing 15-hour experience from a Traverse City hospital room Wednesday night.
The flight began Monday evening, when the four men took off from an airport in Brainerd, Minn. They were en route to Flint's Bishop International Airport after a business trip, said Peck, 44, a lawyer who represents the owners of Colonel's Brainerd International Raceway. Singleterry, a 55-year-old Flushing resident, is president of the racetrack.
"Chase told us we were going to hit some turbulence because of a storm to our north, so we tried to go south and avoid it," Peck said. "But we ended up getting caught in the storm, and these clouds were worse than anything I have ever seen, all yellow, black and purple."
The plane began to shake and suddenly there was a loud explosion.
"Lightning had hit our left engine, and all of a sudden we began to decelerate. I looked at the engine out the window, and saw a white ring around it."
After the crash, they had to get out of the wreckage -- the smell of jet fuel filled the air. They slipped through a hole in the cabin, crawling on their bellies.
"Bill was just moaning in pain. We got as far away as we could -- about 20 yards," Peck told the Detroit Free Press. "I said, 'Are we alive?' Bill said we were, but he was in so much pain. He said, 'I don't think I can make it."'
Both men did.
After the wreck, Peck and Singleterry spent a cold, rainy night in dense woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Gogebic County near Lake Superior. The men shivered and talked each other through fear of not being found.
"At first light, it dawned on us that we were in pretty dire circumstances," Peck told The Detroit News. "I don't think we would have made it another night, especially with Bill's injuries."
Then Peck remembered his phone was in the plane.
Peck crawled back to the wreckage the next morning, got the cell phone and called his wife in Bloomfield Hills, then called 911. He was patched through to the dispatch center in neighboring Iron County, Wis.
Peck didn't know where they were, but he described running water, trees and the sounds of a nearby helicopter.
"He saved his own life by talking us through it and describing details of where he was at," Iron County, Wis., Emergency Government Director Gary Gotta said.
A dispatcher kept Peck on the line for three hours. The dispatcher then directed rescuers stationed at different locations to sound their sirens at different intervals. When he finally heard one, Peck told the dispatcher and they were able to determine which group of rescuers was closest.
"Finally, I saw a helicopter, but it couldn't land because of the trees. So it hovered over us until rescuers on foot could find us. I have never felt such relief as when I saw that rescue team," Peck said.
Lying in a hospital bed, Peck said he realizes how lucky he was.
"I cannot thank enough all the people who played a hand in our rescue," he said. "I truly believe a miracle occurred."
Peck said he knows the only reason he survived the crash is because of the actions of the two pilots, who he said kept the plane under control during its descent.
Champagne, 53, of Richmond served as a flight instructor based out of St. Clair County International Airport since 1998. Osborn, 60, was from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Joe Roussel, director of the St. Clair County International Airport where Champagne worked, praised the pilot for his actions during the accident.
"You have to remember that two people walked away from that airplane," he said Wednesday. "That's remarkable. If anything comes out of this, his daughters need to know he saved lives in the worst situation you could imagine."
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