December 31, 2016 / 5:10 PM / a year ago

Divers to search Lake Erie where plane carrying 6 vanished in Ohio

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Divers were set to plunge into Lake Erie on Saturday to look for the remains of six people who are presumed to have died when their small plane crashed into the frigid lake shortly after taking off from a Cleveland airport, officials said.

The aircraft 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. [nL1N1EP0J0]

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.

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

“We want to start off by giving our condolence to the family and all the people who are involved,” Jackson said at a news conference.

The city of Cleveland has taken over from the Coast Guard in the search for the plane and its occupants, officials said.

A vessel will be used in the search expected to resume on Saturday on Lake Erie and a group of local divers has been assembled to work in a grid pattern as they scour the water, Khalid Bahhur, Burke Lakefront Airport commissioner, told reporters at the news conference.

Bahhur added that following a similar crash into Lake Erie in 2008, it took several days to recover the aircraft.

The Cessna Citation 525 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.

Mullen said on Friday there was no evidence of an emergency call before communications with the aircraft stopped.

The water temperature in Lake Erie was around 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) at the time of the plane’s disappearance, according to the National Weather Service.

Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis Editing by W Simon

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