Ravenna pilot’s body recovered from Lake Erie

Jenna Gerling

A Ravenna pilot’s body was found last night after divers searched for the wreckage of his plane, which crashed into Lake Erie Wednesday night, according to The Associated Press.

Rescuers found his body in about 30 feet of water. The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for 68-year-old Thomas Fijalkovich yesterday at 1 p.m., but the Cleveland fire and police departments continued searching, said Coast Guard Petty Officer William Mitchell.

Fijalkovich was a contract pilot for Aitheras Aviation Group. He was alone in the plane at the time of the accident.

Fijalkovich’s twin engine Beechcraft Baron crashed just after departing from Burke Lakefront Airport at 7:30 p.m., according to a press release from Aitheras’ owner George Katsikas. The airport is within viewing distance of downtown Cleveland.

His destination was Niagara Falls, NY, where the plane was being returned.

The cause of the accident is unknown and is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Coast Guard search lasted 16 hours and covered 26 square miles.

“The search was suspended for a variety of factors,” said Petty Officer Matthew Schofield, according to The Associated Press. “The probability the individual can be found alive has been exhausted. It’s difficult to survive in water that is 32 degrees.”

Mitchell said they had divers in the water and were using sonar to look at the bottom of the lake.

The Cuyahoga County coroner’s office reported earlier yesterday that the pilot’s body had been recovered. The office sent investigators to the scene and retracted the earlier statement, the AP reported.

Mitchell said yesterday afternoon they came across something that could have been a damaged fuselage, a 20-foot-long object in a peculiar spot of the lake. He said it is taking a long time for the divers to do much of anything at the bottom of Erie because of the condition of the water.

“The water is very murky, it takes them forever to move without getting caught up in something – to move safely on the bottom of the water,” Mitchell said. “(The divers) can’t see their hand in front of their faces.

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Gerling

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