Plane Crashes in Snowy Weather

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A single-engine plane carrying at least nine people crashed Saturday in snowy weather shortly after taking off from a Canadian island in Lake Erie (search). The airline's president said there did not appear to be any survivors.

The pilot radioed a frantic call for help shortly after taking off about 5 p.m., but controllers then lost contact with the plane, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Christopher Pasciuto. An island resident heard the plane laboring just before the crash, the Ontario Provincial Police said.

A helicopter found the wreckage of the Georgian Express (search) plane at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday about a mile west of Ontario's Pelee Island, Pasciuto said. It was nose-down in the water with ice around it, airline president Paul Mulrooney said.

"It doesn't appear there have been any survivors," Mulrooney said.

Helicopters were using searchlights to look for survivors in the water, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mark Freeman said.

The cutter Neah Bay was headed from the Detroit area to join the search, as was a Canadian Coast Guard ship.

"From what we understand there is a pretty extensive debris field," Sgt. John Leclerc said from the Canadian search and rescue coordination center at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.

Two rescue helicopters dispatched from the base could not reach the site because of heavy snow.

The plane, a Cessna 208 Caravan (search), was bound for Windsor, Ontario, across the border from Detroit, and crashed about 20 miles north of Sandusky, Ohio.

Mulrooney said 10 people -- nine passengers and a pilot -- may have been on board, but it was unclear whether one passenger made the flight. Ontario Provincial Police said nine people were on board.

Mulrooney brushed aside suggestions that weather may have played a role in the crash.

"It's very capable of flying in this weather," he said, adding that the plane logs 8,000 to 9,000 hours in all kinds of weather. "The weather was poor down there, but from what we know, it is flyable type of weather."

Mulrooney did not identify the pilot, but said he was experienced with the Cessna Caravan and had worked for Georgian Express for more than a year.

The pilot was from Toronto and the passengers were all from southwestern Ontario -- four from Chatham, two from Windsor and two from Kingsville, the provincial police said in a written statement. All were men.

The statement said police in Windsor and Chatham were locating relatives to notify them.

A team of investigators from Ottawa was to be sent to the crash site Sunday morning, said John Cottreau, a spokesman for the Transport Safety Board of Canada.

Mulrooney said his Mississauga, Ontario-based company has flights between the island and Windsor up to three times daily.

"It's only used in the winter months when the island is icebound and they can't use the ferry to get back and forth," he said.

The region has been locked in bitterly cold weather, with temperatures in the 20s Saturday in northern Ohio. The water temperature in Lake Erie, where waves were running 3 feet to 5 feet, was about 33 degrees.

Bob Wernecke, a pilot who flies between Ohio's resort islands just south of Pelee Island, said he made six flights during the day before deciding about 5 p.m. that the low cloud cover and freezing rain had made conditions unsafe.

"It's nasty," he said by phone from Put-In-Bay, Ohio. "It's freezing drizzle, kind of bad."

Located in the western Lake Erie basin between Cleveland and Detroit, Pelee Island and Ohio's Lake Erie islands are popular summertime destinations but lightly populated in the offseason.