In March of 2017, Canadian authorities in Manitouwadge, Ontario, were alerted of a plane crash in a nearby wooded area. Air Force and helicopter transport were deployed to help survey the woods for wreckage and potentially any survivors. But while the wreckage was located and collected, one mystery remained: Where was this plane’s pilot? Nearly five years later, and authorities may finally be closer to having more answers.
The last time Xin Rong, a 27-year-old University of Michigan doctoral student, had been accounted for, he had rented a single-engine Cessna 172 on March 15, 2017 for a flight from Ann Arbor Airport to Harbor Springs, MI. At least, that was what was in his flight plan. According to The Star, the plane departed just after 7 p.m ET.
The Ontario Provincial Police say they had been alerted to a crash between Marathon and Manitouwadge, north of Lake Superior, at around 11:38 p.m ET. From there, the OPP deployed a helicopter for assistance.
At this time, the OPP investigation into this incident has concluded. The pilot of the aircraft was not located at the scene of the crash. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada will continue looking into the plane crash. The University Of Michigan Police Department is investigating an associated missing person incident.
ABC 12 says just a year after the crash, in September 2018, Saginaw County authorities in Michigan found the remains of a near-intact human skeleton in Champin Township. Discovered with those remains were a black boot and Calvin Klein belt (size 32 waist).
At the time of discovery, an anthropologist who first examined the bones confirmed they were so badly broken that “it was possible the person fell from an airplane.”
Just last month, new details surrounding the mystery of the bones surfaced. Advanced DNA testing provided further insight into who these remains belonged to. Results concluded the bones could be from someone of eastern Asian descent. Now, investigators with Saginaw County are trying to connect the remains to the missing 27-year-old Rong.
There is one problem to this theory. How did Rong’s remains end up in Saginaw County when his plane crashed in Ontario?
To give you an idea, I attempted to map out the path on SkyVector. The magenta line shows what could have potentially been Rong’s charted flight path from Ann Arbor to Harbor Springs. The first orange arrow, along the magenta path is the Saginaw area, where the remains were found. The second orange arrow, lost “at sea” and pointing north of Lake Superior, is where Rong’s plane was found.
According to the Detroit Free Press, OPP officials said there were no signs of Rong at the crash site, nor were there footprints in the snow indicative of survivors walking away. The plane had also ran out of fuel. They concluded Rong could have jumped out at some point during the flight.
Rong’s supposed wife, Surong Ruan, correlates this story in a petition she had filed in 2017 to have Rong declared dead. In the petition, she wrote her husband had, “exited the aircraft and didn’t have a chance of being alive.” A Washtenaw County probate judge later signed an order declaring Rong’s death in March of 2017.
Authorities say Rong was described as an experienced pilot. He was certified and a member of Michigan Flyers out of Ann Arbor airport. They say it’s possible he could have put the plane in auto-pilot mode following the original flight plan to Harbor Springs. They also believe it’s possible a plane traveling north in that direction from Ann Arbor could fly over Saginaw County. It’s there Rong could have jumped from the plane and ended his life.