Mystery shrouds the crash of a private plane carrying a prominent upstate New York couple who were taken on a ghostly 2,735km journey after apparently becoming incapacitated at the controls before slamming into the water off Jamaica.
The wreckage of the high-performance plane carrying Rochester real-estate developer Laurence Glazer and his entrepreneur wife, Jane — both experienced and enthusiastic pilots — had not been found late on Friday, hours after US fighter pilots launched to shadow the unresponsive aircraft observed the pilot slumped over and its windows frosting over.
The plane’s pilot had indicated there was a problem and twice asked to descend to a lower altitude before permission was granted by an air traffic controller, according to a recording of the radio conversation. Radio contact with the plane was lost a short time later.
As darkness fell, Jamaican Coast Guard Commander Antonette Wemyss-Gorman said search operations would be suspended and resumed at first light yesterday.
A US cutter was expected to arrive in the area and join the search, US Coast Guard Petty Officer Sabrina Laberdesque said.
The single-engine turboprop Socata TBM700 took off at 8:45am from the Greater Rochester International Airport in New York en route to Naples, Florida. Air traffic controllers were last able to contact the pilot at 10am, the US Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The agency said it had not confirmed the number of people aboard.
On a recording made by LiveATC, a Web site that monitors and posts air traffic control audio recordings, the pilot can be heard saying: “We need to descend down to about 18,000 feet [5,480m]. We have an indication that’s not correct in the plane.”
A controller replied, “Stand by.”
After a pause, the controller told the pilot to fly at 7,620m.
“We need to get lower,” the pilot responded.
“Working on that,” the controller said.
Controllers then cleared the plane to descend to 6,090m, a command the pilot acknowledged.
A couple of minutes later, a controller radioed the plane by its tail number: “900 Kilo November, if you hear this transmission, identify yourself.”
There was no response.
At 10:40am, two F-16 jets were scrambled from a US National Guard base in South Carolina to investigate, according to a statement by the US North American Aerospace Defense Command. Those jets handed off monitoring duties at about 11:30am to two F-15 fighters from the US Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida.
The fighter jets followed the plane until it reached Cuban airspace, when they peeled off, said Preston Schlachter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.
On a LiveATC recording, the fighter pilots can be heard discussing the Socata pilot’s condition.
“I can see his chest rising and falling right before I left,” one said. “It was the first time we could see that he was actually breathing. It may be a deal where, depending on how fast they meet them, he may regain consciousness once the aircraft starts descending for fuel.”
The pilot was speculating that the Socata pilot was suffering from hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, but Schlachter said the US Air Force does not know for certain that was the case.
Rick Glazer said that his parents were both licensed pilots. He said he could not confirm that they were killed, adding “we know so little.”
Numerous public officials offered their condolences for a couple described as a linchpin in efforts to rejuvenate an upstate New York city stung by the decline of corporate giants Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and Xerox.
“They cannot be replaced,” said New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, a former Rochester mayor.
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