Recordings detail concern in air traffic controllers’ voices on night of plane crash

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CLEVELAND -- Newly-released recordings shed light on the chilling moments when a plane with six people on board crashed into Lake Erie. Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the plane to go down.

The recordings include audio from the tower at Burke Lakefront Airport, the tower at Cleveland Hopkins as well as the Cleveland Center in Oberlin.

"I saw something come up, hit three, disappeared on me," says one air traffic controller.

The transmissions are from an air traffic controller at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport shortly after a Cessna Citation 525 dropped from the radar, moments after takeoff around 11:00 p.m. on December 29.

"I've tried him four times, five times, hasn't answered one time ... I don't even see him, I didn't see him either, he was there, then I haven't seen him since," the controller is heard saying.

Within about 10 minutes, controllers scramble to get crews to search Lake Erie for the missing plane:

"I'm calling the Coast Guard now, see if we can have them fly over."

"You're calling them now?"

"Yeah."

"How about the police department or anything like that?"

"No, I haven't made that call yet. I'm trying to get the Coast Guard first, and then we're gonna do everything after that."

On board were the pilot, a Columbus businessman, his wife, two teenage sons, and a neighbor and his 19-year-old daughter.

"Pilot is John P. Fleming. He's 46. As a matter of fact, it's his birthday," said one controller to another.

The other controller then responds, "Ah, you're kidding me."

"Nope, they were in Cleveland to go to the Cavaliers game," responds the first controller.

Despite repeated efforts to contact the plane, controllers still held out hope that it didn't crash.

"We had state troopers go around the airport at Ohio State, just in case they went down there somehow under the radar, literally at treetop level or something," a controller says.

Ships, planes and helicopters from Detroit and Canada were called in to help with the search.
It was obvious the weather was hindering their efforts.

"Daylight's actually gonna help the search a lot because the weather could not have been more uncooperative last night. It's like one-percent moon phase, you know? Fifteen foot seas, 40 knot winds ... it was pretty bad. It was a lot of white caps and it was a white plane," says another controller.

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