6 missing after small plane loses contact over Lake Erie

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Lake Erie plane crash: Police now searching for remains

Police announced Saturday they would begin a new search and recovery operation for the remains of the passengers from a small plane believed to have crashed in Lake Erie Thursday night.

During a press conference on Saturday, officials said investigators will build a grid and identify the plane's last communication. A team of divers and marine experts will extract the remains.

The plane was registered to a beverage company executive and is based at Ohio State University Airport, the airport's director told CNN Friday.

The executive's father, John W. Fleming, told the Columbus Dispatch that his son, John T. Fleming, was at the controls of the Cessna that went missing Thursday night after the pilot, his family and friends attended a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.

"The airplane is based at our airport, it left from the airport and it did not come home last night," Doug Hammon, the airport's director, said Friday.

Also on board the plane were Fleming's wife, Suzanne Fleming, 46, their two sons, John Robert, 15, and Andrew Thomas, 14, a neighbor and a neighbor's daughter, the pilot's father told the newspaper.

John T. Fleming, an experienced pilot, was taking his family and neighbors to the Cavaliers game as a treat for the holidays, according to his father.

Fleming is president and CEO of Superior Beverage Group, according to his LinkedIn page.

The US Coast Guard and its Canadian counterpart searched the lake Friday, but the mission was suspended at 7:30 p.m., spokeswoman Katelyn Waddle said.

Three adults and three children were on board the aircraft, US Coast Guard Captain Michael Mullen told reporters Friday.

"At this point we believe it's [members of] two families," Mullen said of the missing.

The last radar contact with the plane came as it flew about two miles north of the Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, where it took off, according to Mullen.

The twin-engine Cessna Citation 525 was headed for the university airport in Columbus, Ohio, when it disappeared from radar, a Coast Guard statement said.

"The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter from air station Detroit," the statement said, adding that it had partnered with the Royal Canadian Air Force, which sent a C-130 plane down to assist in the search.

Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay is also on its way from Detroit to help, the Coast Guard said.

The search operation was made "very difficult" by 12- to 15-foot waves on Lake Erie, the Coast Guard said.

Air traffic control reported to the Coast Guard at about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday that the plane had just taken off from Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland and "dropped off radar about two miles when it was over Lake Erie," Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Yaw told CNN.

The missing Cessna has room for up to 11 people, but the plane's flight plan indicates it had six people on board, Yaw said.

Ohio State University Airport, where the plane was headed, is certified for commercial service and serves as a research and teaching facility. The airport is owned and operated by the Ohio State College of Engineering, according to its website.


Recovery of plane that vanished over Lake Erie delayed


Recovery efforts are expected to begin Sunday for a small plane carrying six people that disappeared over Lake Erie near Cleveland’s shores.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson expressed condolences to those who lost loved ones, as the city took over from the U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday after an extensive search effort ended in disappointment and became a recovery operation.

A dive team was called in to begin the preparations, but by afternoon, officials said weather and water conditions would not allow for the operation to get started until the next morning.

Private and U.S. Marine Corps divers are helping in the recovery mission, CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO reports. A timetable for the mission is unknown, says Khalid Bahhur, commissioner for Burke Lakefront Airport.

Police chaplains are also walking Lake Erie’s shores in search of debris, Bahhur said. If any is found, it will be handed over to the National Transportation Safety Board, he said.

The Coast Guard will rejoin the search if debris is discovered, WOIO reports. The Coast Guard only takes part in search and rescue missions, which is why the city has stepped in.

John T. Fleming, chief executive of a Columbus-based beverage distribution company, was piloting the plane. His wife, Suzanne, their two teenage sons, Andrew and John - who goes by “Jack” - and two neighbors whose names have not yet been released were aboard.

Fleming’s father, John W. Fleming, told The Columbus Dispatch the family and friends were attending a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.

“We’re just in shock,” he told the newspaper.

The aircraft was headed to Ohio State University Airport, northwest of downtown Columbus.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for the plane on Friday. Capt. Michael Mullen, chief of response for the Coast Guard 9th District, said in a statement that “the decision to suspend a search is never easy.”

The statement said that by the time the search was suspended at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, it would have covered more than 128 square miles of Lake Erie and spanned more than 20 hours.

Tracking service FlightAware logged only three location pings for the plane after takeoff from the airport, and the last one indicated rapid altitude loss. Authorities have said there were no distress signals from the pilot.

They expected three vessels, all equipped with sonar technology, to be on the water Sunday.

Bahhur said such accidents are a rare occurrence for the airport.

A twin-engine Beechcraft Baron with one person aboard crashed into Lake Erie after taking off from Burke in 2008. Fred Szabo, interim director of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, recalled search efforts to recover the body of the pilot took five or six days. He said the safety of the divers and others involved in the recovery will be weighed as the effort proceeds.

“We’re going to do everything possible,” Bahhur said. “Like I said, the boat’s in the water right now and the dive team is preparing themselves to go out. It’s going to be on a day-to-day basis.”

The aircraft took off westward from Burke on Thursday, then turned north across the lake, according to the tracking service flightradar24.com. The departure procedure at Burke could take an aircraft over the lake before turning south toward a destination, Mullen said.

The plane, which had made the roughly half-hour trip from Columbus earlier in the day, was registered to a limited liability company under the same Columbus address as Superior Beverage Group, the company where Fleming was president and CEO.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the Cessna Citation 525 plane left Burke at 10:50 p.m., and the Coast Guard said it was notified about the missing plane by air traffic control at Burke about 30 minutes later.


Private divers to help search for plane that disappeared over Lake Erie carrying 6

A rescue effort for a plane that disappeared over Lake Erie Thursday night — carrying six people who reportedly had attended an NBA game — is now a recovery operation, Cleveland officials said Saturday morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search around 7:30 p.m. Friday after covering more than 128 square miles of Lake Erie.

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy,” Capt. Michael Mullen, chief of response for the Coast Guard 9th District, said in a statement. “I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost loved ones during this tragedy.”

The city of Cleveland took over a recovery operation Saturday morning, city officials said at a news conference.

“We’ve gone from the rescue into recovery and there’s a process,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson told reporters Saturday, adding that he extended his condolences to the friends and family of those on board.

Officials said the Cleveland police and fire departments, the Coast Guard and the local port authority would assist in the search for the plane.

“Our goal right now is to extract the aircraft from the water and bring it to closure,” Burke Lakefront Airport commissioner Khalid Bahhur told reporters Saturday.

Bahhur said the city had contracted with local, private divers and would meet with them Saturday to plot out a strategy to find the plane.

A timetable was unknown at this point, officials added.

“It’s going to be on a day-to-day basis and we’re not going to risk other people’s lives,” Bahhur said. “It’s never easy. It’s extremely difficult. It’s our aviation family so we take it very seriously and it’s affected everybody.”

The Cessna Citation 525, bound for Ohio State University Airport, disappeared from radar “shortly after takeoff” late Thursday night, the Coast Guard said in a news release. The flight had departed from Burke Lakefront Airport, which is located on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland.

Three adults and three children were on the Cessna when went it went missing, Mullen told reporters at a Friday morning news conference. Authorities were working to notify their family members.

John W. Fleming told the Columbus Dispatch that his son was flying the plane, and that the group was in Cleveland for the Cavaliers — Celtics game. NBC News also reported that those aboard the aircraft were returning from the Cavaliers game at Quicken Loans Arena.

Mullen was asked at the news conference if the passengers were in Cleveland to attend the Cavs game, and replied: “I’m not aware of that.”

Both U.S. and Canadian authorities searched Lake Erie after the flight went missing, but neither had not located any debris, according to Mullen. It was not immediately clear what caused the aircraft’s disappearance.

“I’m always hopeful, whenever we’re still conducting a search out there,” Mullen said. “I truly believe that we’re out there and we’re going to find something. Having done search-and-rescue cases myself, as a pilot, every time I go out, I’m looking to find the needle in the haystack, and I’m hopeful that I’ll do that. So yes, we are very hopeful, and we’ll be very hopeful up until the point where we have to turn the search off and we switch over to assisting with recovery, if necessary.”

By the time the Coast Guard announced it would suspend its efforts Friday night, the search had spanned more than 20 hours.

The Columbus Dispatch on Friday reported that the plane was flown by John T. Fleming, who is the chief executive of an Ohio-based beverage distributor.

“They think they may have crashed into Lake Erie,” his father told the Dispatch. John W. Fleming called his son “an experienced pilot.”

A statement from Joseph R. McHenry, executive vice president of the Superior Beverage Group, also confirmed that John T. Fleming, Fleming’s wife, Sue, their sons, and “two close friends” were “involved in an aircraft accident near Cleveland Thursday night.”

“While search and rescue operations are under way, we are focusing our efforts on supporting the families involved,” said the statement, posted to the company’s site. “We are working closely with the proper authorities conducting the investigation. We appreciate the efforts of the first responders on the scene.”

James Cox, a Coast Guard official in Buffalo, told the Associated Press that though the plane was housed at the Ohio State airfield, those aboard the craft didn’t have any connection to the university itself.

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