Recovery of missing plane with 6 aboard to start Sunday

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

Capt. Michael Mullen of the U.S. Coast Guard answers questions during a news conference at Burke Lakefront Airport, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Cleveland. The U.S. Coast Guard says there's been no sign of debris or those aboard a plane that took off from the airport on the shores of Lake Erie and went missing overnight. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — Recovery efforts are expected to begin Sunday for a small plane carrying six people — including two Boardman High School graduates — 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.

“Our hearts grieve with the families and friends that were lost in this tragedy,” said Coast Guard Captain Joseph Dufresne.

The Coast Guard’s search covered about 1,400 miles.

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

“We’re going to do everything possible,” said Khalid Bahhur of the Burke Lakefront Airport. “Like I said, the boat is in the water right now and the dive team is preparing themselves to go out. We’re not going to risk other people.”

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.

John and Suzanne Fleming were both Boardman graduates.

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 Coast Guard suspended its search Friday for the plane that vanished shortly after takeoff Thursday night from the city’s lake shore airport.

Tracking service FlightAware logged only three location pings for the plane after takeoff from Burke Lakefront Airport, the last indicating 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.

Airport Commissioner Khalid 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. Szabo 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, according to Capt. Michael Mullen, chief of response for the Coast Guard 9th District.

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.

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

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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