City Suspends Search and Recovery Operations for the Cessna 525 Citation

Final Recovery Operations Update


A press conference was held today, January 17, 2017 at 3:30 p.m. to provide an update on the recovery operations to date. This is the City’s final update for recovery operations.


Commissioner of Burke Lakefront Airport Khalid Bahhur

The press conference started with a statement from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office, which read:

“The Medical Examiner’s office has collected and analyzed human remains throughout this investigation. The DNA Unit worked over the holiday weekend and has determined three of the six profiles through DNA testing. Ongoing comparison testing is underway to confirm that these profiles match specific individual profiles that were provided by relatives of the passengers.”

Commissioner of Burke Lakefront Airport, Khalid Bahhur provided an overview of operations to date, which included:

  • December 29, 2016, at approximately 11 p.m., a Cessna 525 Citation took off from Burke Lakefront Airport.
  • A few minutes after takeoff, the Control Tower lost contact with the aircraft.
  • At that time, Burke’s operation center called 9-1-1, notified the U.S. Coast Guard and contacted the Ohio State University airport where the plane was scheduled to land.
  • From the time of notification until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 30, 2016 the U.S. Coast Guard conducted search and rescue efforts.
  • Once search and rescue efforts were suspended, the City of Cleveland announced that it would begin recovery operations with a press conference on Saturday, December 31, 2016.
  • Weather and water conditions played an integral role in search and recovery efforts. Water searches could not begin on Lake Erie until Sunday, January 1, 2017. The City of Cleveland used data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other sources to establish a water grid search area.
  • Foot patrols made up of citizens, officers and Mounted Units from Cleveland Division of Police and The Metroparks and members of Cleveland Fire walked along the shoreline collecting debris that washed ashore.
  • The Cleveland Police Helicopter did shoreline searches during the search and rescue operations the night the plane went missing and as often as weather allowed during the recovery operations.
  • On Sunday, January 1, a bag as well as other debris that could be confirmed to belong to the aircraft washed ashore. In the days following, several items washed ashore east of Burke Lakefront airport. Debris was collected, vetted by investigators and confirmations were shared with the families of those aboard the aircraft. The Cleveland Division of Police Accident Investigation Unit is responsible for writing the accident report and logging the collected evidence.
  • Experts created a 3-D model of the possible impact site and this is the area in which the grid search began. The original search site was approximately 4.5 miles from east to west (along the shoreline) and 2.5 miles from north to south (shoreline out into the water). The grid area was reduced as the search went on. First, to approximately, 2.5 miles (east – west) by 2 miles (north – south) and eventually, to a 600-foot by 300-foot area.
  • During those first searches, vessels equipped with side scanning sonar and tow fish sonar went over the area looking for the aircraft. Those water searches did not reveal the aircraft.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) brought an underwater beacon locator detector to Cleveland. This device can pick up transmissions from the aircraft’s Cockpit Voice Recorder and Emergency Locator Transmitter. This piece of equipment “heard” the transmissions and that data was used to reduce the search area. As the result of that equipment being used, divers located the Cockpit Voice Recorder.
  • With the grid search reduced, divers recovered significant pieces of debris from the aircraft including one engine, portions of the fuselage, seats, both wings, rear stabilizer bar, tail pieces, portions of the cockpit, and other items from inside the aircraft. In addition to debris, what were suspected to be human remains were collected throughout the investigation.
  • Today, the Salvage Chief was back out on the water with his crew and a crew from Cleveland Fire. Data collected on Saturday was used to create targeted dive areas. Divers inspected debris in those areas with a focus on locating additional human remains.

Commission Bahhur then introduced Bart Schasfoort from Underwater Marine Contractors, Inc., who provided the following information about today’s recovery efforts:

  • My crew along with a crew from Cleveland Fire went on the water this morning aboard the Salvage Chief.
  • We did targeted dives on what appeared from sonar images to be debris.
  • Our primary goal was to locate human remains.
  • During these dives, two larger pieces of debris were recovered and smaller debris were located, but not recovered.
  • We did not locate any human remains.
  • Earlier this afternoon we reported our findings to the command staff and then pulled our divers out of the water and returned to shore.

After learning details of today’s dives, the City’s unified command has determined that today will be the last day of its search and recovery efforts. Due to conditions in the water, it is not likely that we will be able to recover additional human remains from dives. Commissioner Bahhur stated, “This was a very difficult decision to make and not one that was taken lightly. We have shared this information with the families and as you can understand they are heartbroken.”

Going forward, the Cleveland Division of Police will provide the FAA and the NTSB with its completed accident report. The NTSB and FAA will move forward with their investigation regarding the cause of the accident.The costs incurred in the search and recovery efforts will be compiled and shared with the appropriate agencies, including the insurance agency. The Cleveland Division of Police Community Services Unit will continue to monitor the shoreline as weather permits. And, the City and the Medical Examiner’s office will remain in contact with the Fleming, Armeni and Casey families.

The press conference was wrapped up by thanking all our partners who aided in the search and recovery efforts. Commissioner Bahhur stated, “Their dedication to the families involved in this tragedy and to the City of Cleveland is appreciated.” He then said, “Again, a decision like this one is not made lightly, but it is decision that must be made at some point to provide closure to the families, and to those who worked closely on this operation. ”

The Cleveland Division of Police will follow up on all reports of debris and process them to determine if they are relative to this investigation. Anyone who sees debris should avoid touching it and call the non-emergency number of the Cleveland Division of Police at 216-621-1234.