Recovery efforts are expected to begin Sunday for a small plane carrying six people that disappeared over Lake Erie near Cleveland’s shores.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson expressed condolences to those who lost loved ones, as the city took over from the U.S. Coast Guard. The coast guard ended its extensive search effort on Friday after it ended in disappointment.

A dive team was called in to begin the preparations for the recovery effort, but by afternoon, officials said weather and water conditions would not allow for the operation to get started until the next morning.

John T. Fleming, chief executive of a Columbus, Ohio-based beverage distribution company, was piloting the plane. His wife, Suzanne, their two teenage sons, John “Jack” and Andrew, and two neighbours whose names have not yet been released were aboard.

Fleming’s father, John W. Fleming, told The Columbus Dispatch the family and friends were attending a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.

“We’re just in shock,” he told the newspaper.

Capt. Michael Mullen

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Michael Mullen explained Saturday that officials did not expect to find any survivors on the plane that disappeared over Lake Erie on Dec. 29. (CBC News)

The plane vanished shortly after takeoff Thursday night from the city’s lakeshore airport.

Officials said divers and other marine experts were meeting to set a recovery strategy to be run out of a unified command centre at Burke Lakefront Airport. They planned to begin the search at the last point of contact with the small aircraft.

Rare occurrence

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.

Airport Commissioner Khalid Bahhur said such accidents are a rare occurrence for the airport.

A twin-engine Beechcraft Baron with one person aboard crashed into Lake Erie after taking off from Burke in January 2008. Szabo recalled search efforts to recover the body of the pilot took five or six days.

‘Not going to risk other people’

He said the safety of the divers and others involved in the recovery will be weighed as the effort proceeds.

“We’re going to do everything possible,” Bahhur said. “Like I said, the boat’s in the water right now and the dive team is preparing themselves to go out. It’s going to be on a day-to-day basis, and we’re not going to risk other people.”

The aircraft took off westward from Burke on Thursday, then turned north across the lake, according to the tracking service flightradar24.com. The departure procedure at Burke could take an aircraft over the lake before turning south toward a destination, Capt. Michael Mullen of the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The plane, which had made the roughly half-hour trip from Columbus earlier in the day, was registered to a limited liability company under the same Columbus address as Superior Beverage Group, the company where Fleming was president and CEO.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the Cessna Citation 525 plane left Burke at 10:50 p.m., and the Coast Guard said it was notified about the missing plane by air traffic control at Burke about 30 minutes later.

The aircraft was headed to Ohio State University Airport, northwest of downtown Columbus.

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