Carl Monday investigates botched search effort for victims, airplane

Updated: Jan. 5, 2017 at 8:55 PM EST
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DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It's been one week since six people and an airplane went missing into Lake Erie. The victims and their aircraft have yet to be recovered.

Cleveland 19 News has learned that a missed call from the City of Cleveland to the U.S. Army for use of their tug boat went into a voicemail box that wasn't set-up, and a Cuyahoga County dive team remains sidelined waiting for the call to assist.

Debris collected in missing plane search being vetted

A Cessna Citation 525 crashed into Lake Erie around 10:57 p.m. on Dec. 29. A week later, a Army Corps of Engineers tug boat sits idle in Cleveland's Harbor, never used in the search and rescue or recovery effort. The 46-year-old craft does not have sonar technology. What it does have, however, is thermal imaging capabilities that may have been a key tool, especially in the early hours of the search.

Why wasn't the tug, known as the Cheraw, pressed into action? Why wasn't the Army Corp of Engineers involved in the rescue?

The City of Cleveland claims they did call the Corp last Friday. The Corps insisted it never received the call, and now it's clear why -- someone from the city made the call that the plane was missing, but the message was left at a non-working voicemail at the federal building, just blocks from Burke Lakefront Airport.

"The city called the local office and left a message on a voice box that was not set up. No one had access to that mail box," says Andrew Kornacki, a spokesman with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Nobody got the message, and the city never followed up with a phone call the next day during regular business hours. It wasn't until the following Tuesday that Cleveland and the Army Corps of Engineers finally hooked up -- several days after the plane disappeared.

Cleveland 19 stopped by the airport Thursday to see if the Army Corp of Engineers had arrived at the Emergency Operation Center. We were told the Army Corp had arrived and that their tugboat is on stand-by, but will only be used to tow the plane's remains, if found.

The Army Corp of Engineers does have a 24-hour answering service for emergency calls. So why didn't Cleveland know about it?

Another resource that had been going to waste in Cuyahoga County was the sheriff's marine dive team. While Cleveland had requested the assistance of dive teams from other regions, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's dive team had gone untapped before Thursday. On Thursday night, the city says it reached out to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office about possibly using equipment or the dive team.

The only Cleveland agency to contact the county for help has been the Cleveland Fire Department, who was looking to borrow sonar equipment. But since the county's $4 million boat, equipped with sonar, has been winterized for the season, Cuyahoga County located gear in Summit County for the Cleveland Fire Department to borrow.

A missed call for help and untapped diver resources -- is this the best we can do for the victims and families? Were valuable resources squandered? We're trying to find out and will let you know.

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