December 30, 2016 / 1:54 PM / 2 years ago

Plane carrying CEO of Superior Beverage, five others vanishes in Ohio

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A small plane carrying the chief executive of an Ohio-based liquor distribution company and his wife and sons disappeared over Lake Erie shortly after taking off on Thursday night near Cleveland, the company said on Friday.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search on Friday evening and the official overseeing the operation offered condolences to the friends of family of those aboard the plane.

John Fleming, 46, president and chief executive of Superior Beverage Group, his wife, Sue, their sons Jack and Andrew, and two close friends were aboard the plane, the company said in a statement on Friday.

The two boys were 15 and 14 years old, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

“This is a difficult day for us, and we appreciate the concern and thoughtfulness extended by so many,” Joseph McHenry, company executive vice president, said.

The 11-seat aircraft dropped off radar just before 11 p.m. local time on Thursday after leaving Burke Lakefront Airport on the shore of Lake Erie north of downtown Cleveland, U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Response Michael Mullen told a news conference on Friday.

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy,” Mullen said later in a statement.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost loved ones during this tragedy,” he said.

The Cessna Citation 525, bound for Ohio State University Airport, disappeared after flying about two miles (3 km) over the lake, Mullen said.

Fleming, is believed to have been piloting the plane, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

The group was returning to Columbus after attending the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game against the Boston Celtics, the Dispatch reported.

Coast Guard crews searched with boats, a helicopter and fixed-wing plane over a section of Lake Erie that is about 50 feet (15 meters) deep, Mullen said, adding that there were no signs of debris.

He said there was no evidence of an emergency call before communications with the aircraft stopped.

The water temperature was around 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7°C), according to the National Weather Service.

Reporting by Kim Palmer; Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sandra Maler

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