A pilot’s inexperience combined with fatigue were likely causes of a 2016 plane crash that killed all six people aboard when it plunged into Lake Erie, federal investigators say.
On Dec. 29, 2016, pilot Frank Fleming, who was the CEO of Superior Beverage Company in Columbus, Ohio, took off from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland in a Cessna 525. With him were his wife Sue, 46, sons Jack, 15, and Andrew, 14; family friend Brian Casey, 50; and Mr. Casey’s daughter Megan, 19.
The family and their friends had flown to Cleveland to celebrate Mr. Fleming’s birthday at a Cavaliers game. They returned to the airport after the game and the plane was cleared for takeoff about 11 p.m., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a plane crash report, according to Cleveland.com.
Minutes later, after a series of erratic moves, the airplane plunged into the waters of Lake Erie about two miles from shore, killing everyone aboard.
According to the NTSB, the plane quickly ascended past its designated limit of 2,000 feet, which prompted an airport flight director to issue two warnings.
The airport then issued seven pull-up warnings as the plane descended toward the lake. All the while, the airplane’s enhanced ground proximity warning system “sounded an excessive bank alarm, along with a ‘sink rate’ warning before the crash,” Cleveland.com reported, citing the NTSB’s plane crash report.
According to the NTSB, Mr. Fleming had been awake for 17 hours before he tried to pilot the plane back to Columbus, which likely clouded his judgement. Investigators found that Mr. Fleming failed to put the plane on autopilot when taking off from Cleveland. They noted that Mr. Fleming may have mistakenly thought he engaged the autopilot, but was likely confused by the controls on his newly purchased Cessna.
The plane’s voice recorder also picked up Mr. Fleming trying twice to communicate with air traffic controllers, but they never received his messages – an indication that Mr. Fleming likely forgot to push the talk button on his radio.
“Fleming flew 372.9 hours in a plane he previously owned, a Cessna 510 Mustang … but he only flew 56.5 hours in his newly-purchased Cessna 525, including only 8.5 hours as pilot-in-command,” Cleveland.com reported, citing the NTSB’s plane crash report. Mr. Fleming was certified to fly the Cessna 525 just three weeks before the crash.
Visibility was poor at the time of takeoff, which may have added to Mr. Fleming’s disorientation, the NTSB report said.
The airplane was obliterated on impact, Cleveland.com noted, and just three bodies (John Fleming, Jack Fleming, and Brian Casey) were found after the plane crash. The bodies of Sue Fleming, Andrew Fleming, and Megan Casey were never found.