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Search continues in Lake Erie near Cleveland for missing plane, passengers

The U.S. Coast Guard continued its search today in choppy Lake Erie waters for a small aircraft that went missing after taking off in Cleveland late Thursday night.

The Cessna Citation 525 aircraft left Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport around its scheduled 10:37 p.m. take-off en route to Columbus when it disappeared.

Reports by Cleveland.com indicate the plane was piloted by John T. Fleming, a Columbus beverage distributor.

Fleming was reportedly on-board with two other adults, and three children, all of whom were relatives or family members, the report stated.

Reports suggested they were headed home after traveling to Cleveland to attend Thursday evening's NBA game between the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. The hometown Cavaliers won 124-118.

U.S. Coast Guard officials held a public briefing this morning but wouldn't confirm the identities of the victims or their purpose in Cleveland.

Capt. Michael Mullen, the chief of response for the Coast Guard's ninth district, said the Coast Guard was notified by the air traffic control tower at 11:18 p.m. that it had lost communication and radar contact with the plane about two miles north of the airport which sits on the north side of Cleveland on the Lake Erie shoreline.

"We are continuing to conduct a search two to three miles off-shore to locate anything that is out there at this particular time," Mullen said at this morning's news conference, which was broadcast by several Cleveland media outlets.

Mullen added: "At this particular time, we have not located any debris, or anything we could search on."

Coast Guard officials regard the efforts today as a "search and rescue" operation at this time, and remain hopeful they could find survivors.

Efforts were hampered by 12 to 15 foot high lake waters, snow squalls and darkness through the night, but hoped daylight might reveal the plane, and its occupants.

"We're actively searching for people out there or any signs of survivors," Mullen said.

He added: "We'll be very hopeful until we have to turn the search off and assist with recovery, if necessary."

Mullen said crews used night vision goggles but failed to catch any glimpse of the plane overnight.

"The sea state itself hindered our ability to search," Mullen said. "That's why we're taking advantage of the daylight now."

Water temperatures were reported to be in the upper 30s off Cleveland today, but Coast Guard officials weren't writing off finding any survivors, even 12 hours after the plane went missing.

"It comes down to a will to survive," Mullen said.

Reports from the National Weather Service in Cleveland show that there were gusty west winds and snow at the time the plane went missing.

The aircraft went missing about 11 p.m. At that time, weather service data shows that winds were gusting from the west at 36 mph. There was light snow falling with a visibility of about eight miles. Gusty winds continued as crews from the U.S. and Canada coast guards searched through the night. (National Weather Service, Cleveland)

"Ultimately, it's up to the pilot to determine whether it's safe for them to continue or not," Mullen said.

Mullen said the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed a helicopter and a 140-foot cutter, Bristol Bay, both from Detroit, to conduct the search along with a C-130 aircraft provided by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Here's the full text of the news release posted by the U.S. Coast Guard newsroom:

(U.S. Coast Guard)

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