Crews find possible human remains, search and recovery suspended for weekend

Search for missing plane suspended for the weekend

CLEVELAND - The latest:

Search and recovery operations will be suspended this weekend due to weather and water conditions. Investigators will respond to any reports of debris on the shoreline over the weekend. However, weather conditions will not allow for foot patrols to conduct shoreline searches.

Officials emphasize that operations will begin again on Monday at daybreak and will continue until they are confident they have discovered everything possible. 

In a Friday evening press conference, officials announced that a passenger seat containing possible human remains was recovered from the debris found at approximately 4:00 p.m. The remains are to be confirmed by a medical examiner. You can watch the briefing below:

Officials say crews found the cockpit voice recorder and parts of the tail of the plane around 1:50 p.m. Friday. Additional debris was also found and will be analyzed. Divers are continuing their search as long as they can Friday.

NTSB is on scene and will begin its portion of the investigation, including pulling flight records and combing through debris. The cockpit voice recorder will be sent to Washington for analysis. 

Despite some media outlet reports of the plane's fuselage being found Friday morning, officials say that only a portion of it may be among the debris that was found. The city of Cleveland disputed the reports that the fuselage was found.

Search conditions have been difficult due to the weather and state of the lake.

Story background:

A small plane carrying six people crashed shortly after taking off from Burke Lakefront Airport on Thursday, Dec. 29.

John Fleming, his wife, their two sons Jack, and Andrew, and two neighbors, Brian and Megan Casey, were on board the plane after visiting Cleveland to attend the Cavaliers' game.

They were flying to Ohio State University in Columbus, but the plane dropped from radar about two miles north of shore in Lake Erie.

More than 100 pieces of debris have been found, but the plane has yet to be recovered.

Below is a timeline of updates on how the search has progressed.

Friday morning's update:

The city issued an e-mail late this morning disputing erroneous local media reports that the plane had been found. Instead, they declared divers remain in the water as the search continues.

A pair of vessels were deployed early Friday morning equipped with sonar, divers and equipment from the National Transportation Safety Board as the search for the missing plane in Lake Erie continues.

One of those vessels is heading to specific coordinates and is deploying divers who are using an underwater locator beacon detector. The closer they get, the stronger the signal will be.

Visibility in Lake Erie, however, is limited at only 2-3 inches.

"As divers slowly move toward the signals, they will feel around the bottom of the lake for the aircraft," according to a news release from city officials. "This will be a slow and deliberate process that may take several hours to search even a small area."

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will operate a drop sector sonar scanner to track the divers and get images from the bottom of the lake.

Frigid temperatures and wicked wind chills have limited shoreline searches.

Additionally, funeral arrangements were announced for the family on board the plane.

Thursday evening's update:

Just after 6:15 p.m. Thursday, the city of Cleveland provided an update on the search for the missing plane.

According to the update from the city, during search and recovery efforts in the blue water grid search area Thursday, the NTSB underwater locator beacon detector received multiple transmissions while deployed from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) “Muskie.” 

These transmissions have been plotted on the models to narrow down the search site for the Cockpit Voice Recorder to a 125- by 325-foot search area, according to city officials.

Weather and water conditions did not allow for divers to enter the water or sonar equipment to be used Thursday.

City officials say that waves "...are predicted to be two feet or less tomorrow with winds west/southwest at 10-15 miles per hour. The temperature will be 13 degrees in the morning with a high of 19 degrees later in the day. If conditions are as predicted, searches will begin at daylight."

The Muskie and the Salvage Chief (Underwater Marine Contractors) will be deployed with the drop sector sonar, a dive team who will use the underwater locator beacon detector and crews from the NTSB, Muskie, Underwater Marine Contractors and the Cleveland Division of Fire, according to the update.

They also said that shoreline searches will continue on Friday.

Thursday morning update

According to Thursday's morning update from the city of Cleveland, the search continued for the plane missing in Lake Erie last Thursday.

Additional debris was retrieved along the shoreline east of Burke Lakefront Airport, according to the morning update. That debris has not yet been confirmed as relevant to this investigation.

Shoreline searches continued Thursday until sunset.

The Cleveland Division of Police is working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board on this active investigation. A vessel was deployed in the Cleveland harbor Wednesday afternoon with a National Transportation Safety Board technician and their equipment, the underwater locator beacon. Due to the weather conditions Wednesday, the equipment did not receive any transmissions from the aircraft

According to the city's update, this underwater locator beacon was deployed to the search grid again today (Thursday) “The NTSB is here to provide whatever assistance we can for search and recovery," said Tim Sorensen, Aviation Accident Investigator from the NTSB. “Our main goal is investigating the circumstances and cause of the accident. The equipment is designed to assist in locating the Cockpit Voice Recorder, which would aid us in this investigation.”

The photo above shows the light green area that was searched on Day 1, Sunday, Jan. 1. The dark green area was searched on the 2nd day, Monday, Jan. 2nd. The blue area was searched on day 3, Tuesday, Jan. 3rd and is also where the vessel headed to today.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) “Muskie” has arrived in Cleveland to assist with search and recovery efforts. Crews from the Cleveland Division of Fire and the NTSB were deployed with USGS crews onboard.

Also, on board the Muskie is a sector drop sonar, a diver and the NTSB equipment.

The underwater locator beacon detector will be deployed in search of a transmission from the Cockpit Voice Recorder.

The United States Coast Guard also has a 25-foot vessel on standby to assist, and the Cleveland Metroparks Zodiac that had been deployed earlier is now out of the water, as of Thursday afternoon.

The Army Corps of Engineers is on standby to deploy a tug if needed.

According to the update, water conditions Thursday are westward winds at 15-25 knots; waves between 4-6 feet, subsiding later to 1-3 feet; with freezing spray and snow showers. The United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) 75-foot research vessel, the “Muskie” is on its way from Huron to Cleveland. This vessel is equipped to handle rougher seas and can move at speeds slow enough to use the NTSB’s equipment in today’s water conditions, according to the news release.

City officials said the Muskie will be deployed from the United States Coast Guard station, where it will dock while in Cleveland. It will head to the grid search area with the NTSB technician and equipment, a diver and sonar equipment.

The city also noted that the United States Coast Guard has a 25-foot vessel on standby to assist and the Cleveland Metroparks have deployed the Zodiac to assist with shoreline debris collection. Other partner agencies are on standby to assist as needed and as weather conditions allow.

As they did on Wednesday, foot patrols consisting of Cleveland Divisions of Police and Fire, Cleveland Metroparks Rangers and volunteers from the Red Cross and mounted units from Cleveland Division of Police and the Metroparks’ rangers will search the shoreline east of Burke Lakefront Airport from E. 72nd Street to East 185th Street, according to the update.

They will dispatch units to respond to other areas if debris is reported. As weather conditions permit, the Cleveland Division of Police helicopter will search the shoreline by air.

Wednesday's update:

Search efforts for the missing plane last seen over Lake Erie last Thursday evening mostly remained on the shoreline Wednesday due to weather conditions.

According to the city of Cleveland, foot patrols and mounted units were searching the shoreline east of Burke Lakefront Airport and the Cleveland Police helicopter is monitoring weather conditions.

Just after 5 p.m. today, the city stated that "...additional debris has been recovered today along the shoreline. Some of the debris collected today is relevant to this investigation. We are not sharing specific information about the debris as it is part of an active investigation."

There are very high winds off the lake today causing high waves and conditions unsuitable for smaller water craft and dive teams. 

"Several requests have been made about the cost of the search and recovery efforts. There is no cost estimate and the financial details will be handled when the search and recovery operations have concluded.  The unified command’s continued focus is on the search and recovery efforts," according to the city's statement released at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Vessels from the Cleveland Division Fire, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and New York State Police are on standby to search on the water if conditions allow it. As of Wednesday evening, water conditions were too choppy due to high winds, making it unsafe for crews to continue their grid search.

Cleveland Division of Police Divers have not been engaged at this point because sufficient dive teams were available for the number of vessels deployed for the designated search area, according to the city.

The City of Cleveland will continue to notify the family of all support/assistance requests regarding the investigation. Unified Command will continue to utilize all resources that meet the needs of the search and recovery operations.

The Cleveland Division of Police chopper and the Cleveland Metroparks' Zodiac were both deployed Tuesday, but had to return due to weather and visibility.

Mounted units from the Cleveland Division of Police and the Metroparks Rangers joined personnel on foot for the shoreline searches.

Officials held a press conference on Tuesday to give an update on the recovery operation. Watch below:

According to the city of Cleveland, more than 120 pieces of debris have been recovered since the plane disappeared last Thursday, and many are consistent with what would be found on a Cessna 525 Citation, the type of aircraft that went missing.

The search is in 35- to 45-foot water across a grid that stretches about 2 1/2 miles east to west across the shoreline and two miles north of the shore.

Until Monday evening, the only piece of evidence that the city would disclose that came from the aircraft is a bag from the plane that washed ashore in Bratenahl on Sunday. The city says it has received multiple reports of debris washing ashore east of Burke Lakefront Airport. 

The Cleveland Division of Police is leading the investigation, following up on all reports of debris and continuing to vet all debris found to determine if it is relative to this investigation. Anyone who sees debris should call the non-emergency number of the Cleveland Division of Police at 216-621-1234 or Burke Lakefront Airport at 216-781-6411.

“We want to remind everyone that this is an active investigation,” said Calvin Williams, Chief of Police. “If you see something that could be debris from the plane, we are asking people to avoid touching it, and to call the Division of Police immediately.”

John Fleming, his wife, their two sons Jack, and Andrew, and two neighbors, Brian and Megan Casey, were on board the plane after visiting Cleveland to attend the Cavaliers' game Thursday.

Their destination was The Ohio State University in Columbus. Fleming, a Dublin, Ohio resident, is the CEO to Superior Beverage Group. Their plane dropped from radar about two miles north of shore over Lake Erie.

The bag found Sunday contained an identification card and other items, police say.


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