Wednesday, January 16, 2008


CLEVELAND – Rescue crews from Cleveland Fire, Cleveland EMS, The Coast Guard and Metro LifeFlight are all working at this hour in Cleveland searching for a downed plane.

The twin-engine Beachcraft Baron plane went into Lake Erie in the area of Burke Lakefront Airport around 7:30 p.m. – Burke Lakefront officials said the plane was banking to the north after take off and crashed almost immediately.

The National Weather Service has the Lake Erie temperature at 37 degrees.

Dive teams are being assembled now to assist in the rescue.

Coast Guard spokesman William Mitchell says that rescuers were still treating the search as a “rescue mission” early Thursday morning even though it would be difficult for someone to survive in the water for so many hours with the threat of hypothermia.

The plane, that was headed to Niagara Fall, New York, sent a distress signal to the tower during take off just after 7 p.m. Wednesday night.
UPDATE: 3:00 p.m.
Coast Guard officials held a press conference at noon today releasing the pilot’s identity as 68 year old Tom Fijalkovich or Ravenna, Ohio. They also said that due to the amount of time that has past since the aircraft went into the Lake they are now in a recovery operation.

“Right now we have gone from a Search & Rescue operation to a Recovery. We’re supporting other agencies at this point to help find the aircraft and Mr. Fijalkovich. What we will do now is transition from Search & Rescue phase, which is Search & Rescue patterns, and all that entails to an agency assist. We will work with the FAA and Cleveland Fire to help find the fuselage and Mr. Fijalkovich.”

Officials said that they found a piece of equipment that is between 20 & 29 feet long down in the water but at this point they are still not sure what it is.

Khalid Bahhur, Burke Lakefront Airport Commissioner, described Fijalkovich as an experienced pilot. “He received his departure heading from the tower and banked normally but when he banked, kept banking and went right into the water”.
Update: 7:30 p.m.
United States Coast Guard officials have confirmed that they located Fijalkovich’s plane about 30 feet under water. They have not confirmed if Fijalkovich’s body is inside or not.
The next step in the operation is to have a salvage crew raise the wreckage before the artic air moves into the area this Friday.
Update: 10 p.m.
The United States Coast Guard announced during a press briefing that the body of Tom Fijalkovich was found inside the plane as divers made their way through a door around 4 this afternoon. The divers were unable to recover body at that time.
The recovery and salvage operation is now involving the company the pilot worked for and another local company. They have not yet said when that recovery will begin.


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