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NTSB: Pilot certified 21 days before Lake Erie plane crash

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CLEVELAND — The pilot of a plane that crashed into Lake Erie last month received his certification to fly that type of aircraft just 21 days before the fatal crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report.

The NTSB report issued Thursday night provides a timeline for the Dec. 29 crash, but does not indicate why the Cessna Citation 525 suddenly lost altitude and crashed just one minute after takeoff.

Killed were Columbus businessman John Fleming, who was piloting the plane; his wife, Sue Fleming; their teenage sons, Jack and Andrew Fleming; their neighbor Brian Casey; and Casey's teenage daughter, Megan Casey, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The six were heading back to Columbus after attending a Cleveland Cavaliers game that evening.

According to the NTSB report, the air traffic controller at Burke Lakefront Airport cleared Fleming for takeoff at 10:56 p.m. and instructed him to turn right and maintain an altitude of 2,000 feet. Fleming acknowledged the clearance. After takeoff, the controller told Fleming to contact departure control. Fleming didn't respond.

The report said position data indicated the plane reached an altitude of approximately 2,925 feet, nearly 1,000 feet higher than what the air traffic controller had instructed. About five seconds later, the plane quickly descended. The final data point was recorded at 10:57 p.m., showing the plane's altitude at just 775 feet.

Search and recovery efforts in the days and weeks that followed were hampered by weather and lake conditions, and were eventually called off on Tuesday.

Airplane debris including the cockpit voice recorder was recovered. The NTSB said the recorder captured the entire flight and a committee in Washington will listen to and transcribe it for the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Federal Aviation Administration records indicated Fleming purchased the plane in October and the most recent maintenance activity occurred on Dec. 17.

The records also revealed Fleming did not become certified to fly the plane until Dec. 8 when he successfully completed the FAA practical test. His initial Cessna 525 training was done in the accident airplane. He then completed a simulator-based recurrent training course at FlightSafety International on Dec. 17.



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