KINGSTON, Jamaica — Shadowed by two U.S. fighter jets, a small plane with its windows frosted over and its pilot apparently incapacitated flew a ghostly 1,700-mile journey down the Atlantic Coast and beyond before finally crashing in the waters off Jamaica. The fate of the two or more people aboard was not immediately known.
Maj. Basil Jarrett of the Jamaican Defense Force said the plane went down about 14 miles (22 kilometers) northeast of the northern coastal town of Port Antonio and the military sent two aircraft and a dive team to investigate the area where the plane went down.
A U.S. C-130 aircraft is also flying over the crash site and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter is on the way, according to Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios.
“None of us have found anything at this time,” Rios said.
The single-engine turboprop Socata TBM700, which took off at 8:45 a.m. EDT from the Greater Rochester International Airport in New York, was carrying a prominent real estate developer and his wife, the couple’s son said.
Rick Glazer said that his parents, Larry and Jane Glazer, were both licensed pilots. He said he can’t confirm they were killed, adding that “we know so little.”
Larry Glazer ran the development firm Buckingham Properties. He owned the high performance plane he was flying and was president of the TBM Owners and Pilots Association and active in Rochester civic affairs.
Public officials who knew the Glazers issued condolence messages centered on their role helping revitalize Rochester.
“The Glazers were innovative and generous people who were committed to revitalizing downtown Rochester and making the city they loved a better place for all,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I offer my deepest condolences to the Glazers’ family and friends during this difficult and trying time.”
Air traffic controllers were last able to contact the pilot of the plane at 10 a.m. EDT, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The agency said it had not confirmed the number of people aboard.
The pilot had filed a flight plan with the FAA to fly from Rochester to Naples, Florida. Fighter jets were scrambled at 11:30 a.m. EDT and followed the plane until it reached Cuban airspace, when they peeled off, said Preston Schlachter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command & US Northern Command. FlightAware, an aviation tracking website, showed the plane over the Caribbean south of Cuba at about 2 p.m. EDT.
It finally came down after flying more than 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers).
The fighter jet pilots trailing the plane reported that they couldn’t see into its interior because the windows were frosted or fogged, said Schlachter.
FlightAware identified the plane’s tail number as N900KN. FAA records show the plane, a model that sells new for $3.5 million in its standard version, is owned by a company based at the same address as a real estate firm in Rochester.
The incident is the second time in less than a week that private pilot has become unresponsive during a flight. On Saturday, a pilot lost consciousness and his plane drifted into restricted airspace over the nation’s capital. Fighter jets were also launched in that case and stayed with the small aircraft until it ran out of fuel and crashed Saturday into the Atlantic.
Cases of pilots becoming unresponsive while their planes wander the sky are unusual, with probably not much more than a handful of such incidents over the last decade, said aviation safety expert John Goglia. Sometimes the incidents are due to a pilot becoming incapacitated by a heart attack or stroke, but more often the problem is insufficient cabin pressurization that causes the pilot and any passengers to pass out, he said.
Pilots are supposed to check that the cabin pressurization is correctly set before takeoff, but there have been cases where they have forgotten to do that or the pressurization level has been improperly set, said Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member. If cabin pressure drops too low, there won’t be enough oxygen per cubic foot in the cabin and any people aboard will lose consciousness, he said. In such cases, it’s likely that those on board will die from loss of oxygen before the plane runs out of fuel and crashes, he said.
Mechanical problems or a window or fuselage leak can also lead to rapid cabin depressurization. When that happens, the time of useful consciousness a pilot has in which to react is measured in seconds, Goglia said.
In 1999, the pilots of a Learjet carrying professional golfer Payne Stewart from Orlando, Florida, to Texas became unresponsive. The plane took a turn and wander all the way to South Dakota before running out of fuel and crashing into a field west if Aberdeen. Stewart and five others on board were killed. An NTSB investigation blamed the accident on depressurization.