City gambled tragedy wouldn't happen, police union president says of plane search

City gambled tragedy wouldn't happen, police union president says of plane search
(Source: WOIO)

DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - U.S. Coast Guard officials in Cleveland had to immediately request assistance from out of state when a plane went missing over Lake Erie this past month.

The U.S. Coast Guard was alerted it needed to start a search and rescue effort for a missing Cessna 525 plane at about 11:30 p.m. Dec. 29. Captain Michael Mullen, the Chief of Response for the Coast Guard District Nine, said the Coast Guard helicopter in Detroit was immediately called to assist in the search, as was a Detroit-based 140-foot ship called a cutter. Mullen said the Coast Guard attempted to launch a 25-foot boat from Cleveland Harbor and a 45-foot boat from Lorain, but the weather conditions of 12- to 15-foot waves were too much for the vessels.

Mullen said the helicopter had arrived from Detroit around 1 a.m., and for a time was the only asset searching for the plane.

The 140-foot vessel from Detroit arrived on scene between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Dec. 30.

All of the helicopters the U.S. Coast Guard has dedicated to the Great Lakes region were located in Detroit and Traverse City, Michigan. The U.S. Coast Guard stressed it routinely works cooperatively with Canada, including during this most recent Lake Erie search.

Cleveland 19 asked Mullen why there are no air capabilities based in Cleveland.

"Well the Coast Guard only has so many resources, so we've decided or over the course of time, the best places for them to be located is where they are. So, we have two air stations within the district, which is air station Detroit and air station Traverse City, and those have worked for us. So, if we had more resources there might be some here in Cleveland, but I can't answer that in good faith, we only have limited resources," said Mullen.

Cleveland 19 also reached out to U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C., and was told that the allocation of resources is determined by who has the greatest need.

Cleveland 19 asked the city of Cleveland why the police department's helicopter was not used immediately during the search. No one from the city responded to repeated questions, but police union president Steve Loomis said that floats -- or pontoons -- on the bottom of the helicopter were not properly certified so the craft wouldn't have been able to go out any distance over the lake.

"Those floats need to be maintained and certified and from what I understand in talking to people that work down there, they're not. They haven't been. They're certainly not on the helicopter," said Loomis. "They're not certified and those types of certifications should be maintained, and again (the city's) playing the odds in not doing it."

He also brought up that the police department also doesn't have a harbor unit, and he thinks a unit could have helped in the search and rescue/search and recovery efforts.

"It may not, in this particular case, made a difference between life and death, but it certainly would have made a difference in closure," said Loomis. "All (the city) is doing is playing the odds. The city's playing the odds that a tragedy like this is not going to happen, and when it does, now we're back tracking, and we're shooting from the hip and we're, you know, calling this resource and that resource, and God bless every one of them that came to help us but we shouldn't need that much help."

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