Plane Carrying 6 Disappears Near Cleveland; Rescue Crews Hopeful

CLEVELAND (AP) -
Capt. Michael Mullen of the U.S. Coast Guard at a news conference at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland on Friday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

A plane carrying three adults and three children disappeared overnight shortly after takeoff from a Cleveland airport along the shore. Crews are combing Lake Erie and are still hopeful that the occupants could be found alive, a Coast Guard official said Friday.

Authorities have “faint hints” but no strong pulse from an emergency locating transmitter, a beacon that could help find the plane, said Capt. Michael Mullen, the chief of response for the Ninth Coast Guard District. The crews searching for the plane are in search-and-rescue mode, not recovery mode, as they ply waters that are about 50 feet deep, he said.

“We’re very hopeful. We will be very hopeful up until the point that we have to turn the search off and we switch over to assisting with recovery,” Mullen said.

The plane’s pilot was John T. Fleming, an executive at a beverage distributor called Superior Beverage Company. Fleming’s father told The Blade newspaper in Toledo that the other five people on the plane were Fleming’s wife, two teenage sons, a neighbor and the neighbor’s daughter. John W. Fleming also described his son as “an experienced pilot.”

The Columbus-bound Cessna Citation 525 departed Burke Lakefront Airport late Thursday with six aboard and vanished from radar about 2 miles over the lake. It is unclear why this happened, and searchers have found no sign of debris.

Snow squalls, higher seas and darkness made nighttime searching difficult, Mullen said. Weather prevented a boat search overnight, but a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and a Canadian air crew in a plane were being used, and ship from Detroit was being brought in to help with the search.

It would have been the pilot’s responsibility to determine whether it was safe to fly, Mullen said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane left the airport at 10:50 p.m., and the Coast Guard said it was notified about the missing plane by air-traffic control sometime after 11 p.m.

The aircraft was headed to Ohio State University Airport northwest of downtown Columbus. The plane is kept at a hangar at the airfield, but the six people aboard the aircraft aren’t affiliated with OSU, Coast Guard representatives said.