Bad weather prevents search of Lake Erie for plane carrying 6 people

by Reuters
Saturday, 31 December 2016 21:16 GMT

(Adds gale warning in effect for Lake Erie)

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND, Dec 31 (Reuters) - High winds prevented a recovery team on Saturday from searching for the remains of six people presumed to have died when their small plane crashed into Lake Erie shortly after taking off from a Cleveland airport, city officials said.

They made the announcement after the National Weather Service said in an advisory that a gale warning would be in effect until Saturday evening for open waters of frigid Lake Erie, with winds of 30 knots and waves of up to 8 feet (2.4 meters).

"Weather and water conditions are expected to accommodate search and recovery efforts beginning at first light (on Sunday) morning," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's office said in a statement.

Three vessels, including a Cleveland Division of Fire boat and a Coast Guard vessel, will be used in the search on Sunday, the city's statement said.

Before bad weather prevented the search, divers had been set to plunge into Lake Erie on Saturday to look for the aircraft and the remains of its occupants, officials said.

The plane, a Cessna Citation 525, dropped off the radar shortly after departing on Thursday night from Burke Lakefront Airport on the shore of Lake Erie north of downtown Cleveland, officials said.

It was carrying John Fleming, 46, president and chief executive of Ohio-based liquor distribution company Superior Beverage Group, his wife, Sue, their sons Jack and Andrew, and two close friends, company officials have said.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the Cessna on Friday, and Jackson at a news conference on Saturday morning said the six people on board were presumed to have died.

Khalid Bahhur, Burke Lakefront Airport commissioner, told reporters at the news conference that following a similar crash into Lake Erie in 2008, it took several days to recover the aircraft.

The Cessna had been bound for Ohio State University Airport and disappeared after flying about two miles (three km) over the lake, U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Response Michael Mullen told a news conference on Friday.

Officials have not said what might have caused the plane to go down.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, officials said.

Lake Erie had rain and temperatures of around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. (Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis Editing by Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofky)

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