Two Airplanes Missing as New Year Begins; Coast Guard Initiates Search and Recovery Operations

January 3, 2017
Abram I. Bohrer

Aviation accident attorneys Bohrer & Lukeman are investigating the events surrounding the disappearance of two airplanes during the last week of 2016. On Thursday, December 29, a twin-engine Cessna Citation 525 executive jet vanished from radar while headed to the Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio. The airplane’s owner, John W. Fleming, lent the plane to his pilot son, Columbus area businessman and Superior Beverage CEO, John T. Fleming, so he could fly his family and friends to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game. The jet disappeared in inclement weather during their return flight from Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport.

Police investigators believe that the airplane crashed in Lake Erie and have begun a second search and recovery operation since the incident. The first was suspended Friday at 7:30 p.m. due to snow squalls and 12- to 15-foot waves which made the operation “very difficult”, according to the Coast Guard.

The flight plan listed six passengers, including Fleming, his wife Suzanne, and their two sons, Andrew Thomas and John Robert, aged 14 and 15. They were joined by a neighbor and the neighbor’s daughter.

FlightAware, a service that tracks commercial and private aircraft, reportedly logged only three location pings for the plane after takeoff from Burke Lakefront Airport, and the last one indicated rapid altitude loss. There was no report of a distress signal from the pilot at any point during the approximately 30 minute flight.

According to Cleveland police, on Sunday afternoon, a bag from the aircraft, washed ashore near the Shoreby Club in Bratenahl, Ohio, just over 5.5 miles northeast of Cleveland. There have also been numerous other reports of debris washing ashore east of the city.

Airplane accident lawyers Bohrer & Lukeman will continue to follow the events surrounding the tragic disappearance of this executive jet and the loss of its occupants and will report any new information as it becomes available.

In a second unrelated incident, on Friday, December 30, a Cessna 172 dropped from radar off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Molokai. According to the US Coast Guard, the single-engine aircraft was headed to Honolulu from Molokai Airport when it disappeared two miles north-northeast of Ilio Point, located in Molokai’s northwest corner. Three passengers were onboard. They have been identified as pilot Michael Childers and passengers John Mizuno and Whitney Thomas, residents of Oahu.

At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu received a call from Honolulu Control Facility informing them that the Cessna 172, tail number N174LL, had fallen off radar. Weather conditions were unfavorable at the time of the incident, including poor visibility and high wind speeds.

The Coast Guard launched a search and rescue operation late Friday. The search effort grew to include a 130 Hercules airplane crew, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, and the USCGC Kittiwake, an 87-foot Coastal Patrol Boat stationed in Honolulu. They were joined by responders from the Molokai Police Department, the National Parks Service, and the Maui Fire Department, as well as 30 volunteers arranged by family members of the missing persons. Together, they conducted 29 searches over three days along the coast surrounding Ilio Point, extending two miles out from the shoreline, covering a total of 1,473 square miles.

As of sunset on Sunday, the Coast Guard has suspended further search efforts, citing inclement weather and a lack of results.

“Suspending a search is an incredibly difficult decision to make, especially during the holiday season,” said Lt. Nic Iannarone of the Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center. “Our crews along with Maui County Fire Department and the National Parks Service have completely covered the search areas on ground and sea and have found no trace of the Cessna.”

The Maui Fire Department vowed to resume its search efforts Monday Morning.

Aviation lawyers Bohrer & Lukeman will continue to monitor the events surrounding the Hawaiian missing airplane investigation and will continue to update its website with any new information regarding both of these cases as it becomes available. Bohrer & Lukeman is an airplane accident law firm with years of experience representing those injured or killed in general and commercial aviation incidents. Abe Bohrer, founder of the New York-based law firm, has successfully represented clients both domestically and internationally.