A small private plane with only an “unresponsive” pilot on board crashed into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday after circling for more than two hours, US officials said.
The US Air Force had scrambled two F-15 jets to intercept and monitor the Cessna 421 aircraft, which was headed from Louisiana to Florida.
North American Aerospace Defense Command said the jets “intercepted and monitored an unresponsive general aviation aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico at approximately 9:30am.”
“The NORAD fighters remained on station and monitored the aircraft until it crashed in the Gulf of Mexico at approximately 12:15pm.The fighters stayed on station to assist partner agencies in further efforts before returning to base,” it added in a statement.
The light, twin-engine aircraft’s “windows were iced over ... They were unable to see the pilot,” US Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Bill Colclough said.
Coast Guard Seaman Ivan Barnes said the plane “landed right-side up and eventually, the nose was submerged under water.”
There was no indication that the pilot, the sole person aboard, had survived, though his death was not officially confirmed.
The aircraft departed from Slidell, Louisiana, and was headed to Sarasota, Florida, but it began flying in circles, fluctuating between about 8,200m and 10,000m about midway through the trip, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Colclough said the plane had been flying “erratically” about 320km south of Panama city, Florida.
One aviation expert told CNN that a loss of cabin pressure could have caused the pilot to lose consciousness.