Pilot of missing plane identified as Columbus-area businessman, family also on board

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The chief executive of a beverage distribution company was piloting a plane carrying his wife, two sons and two other people when it vanished from radar after takeoff from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.

The parents of Superior Beverage Company executive John T. Fleming confirm he was piloting the Columbus-bound Cessna Citation 525 jet when it disappeared late Thursday about 2 miles over Lake Erie.

His wife, Suzanne, 46, and their two sons, John Robert, 15, and Andrew Thomas, 14, were also on board the plane along with a neighbor and a neighbor's daughter, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Fleming told the Dispatch, which first reported the pilot's identity, his son was "an experienced pilot." The group had gone to the Cleveland Cavaliers game Thursday and were heading back to The Ohio State University Airport.

Crews combing Lake Erie for the plane remain hopeful the occupants can be found alive.

Tracking service FlightAware logged only three location pings for the plane after takeoff from Burke Lakefront Airport, and the last one indicated rapid altitude loss. Authorities have said there were no distress signals from the pilot.

The cause of the disappearance is unknown, according to the Ninth Coast Guard District.

Mike Mullen with the Coast Guard said this is still considered a rescue.

“It comes down to a will to survive,” Mullen told reports about the likelihood there are survivors.

missing-plane-search-zoneAn aircrew from the Coast Guard Air Station Detroit is searching via helicopter, and the Royal Canadian Air Force is also assisting. Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay is also here from Detroit to aid in the search.

Crews were searching a 16 by 8 nautical mile area. They have not found any debris and only detected a faint hint from an emergency transmitter.

Friday afternoon, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson told FOX 8, the lake search zone has been expanded to 11 nautical miles north/south by 28 nautical miles west/east, extending from approximately Bay Village to Mentor-on-the-Lake.

The Coast Guard is also including side searches along the shoreline from Lorain to Fairport Harbor.

The FOX 8 I TEAM investigated why we did not see Cleveland Police helicopters Thursday night as the search began.

Turns out, the police choppers are not allowed to fly over water at night. They can’t do it because of federal rules for the kinds of aircraft Cleveland Police use. Even during the daytime, they’d be required to stay within gliding distance of the shoreline.

The Cleveland Police choppers could add flotation devices to go out over water. But that’s not something crews would be prepared to do in winter months.

Continuing coverage here.