Thursday, April 19, 2012

F-15s scrambled to make contact with unresponsive aircraft - Cessna crashes into Gulf

A small plane with an apparently incapacitated pilot that crashed just after 9 am in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday has sunk, said Coast Guard officials. Crews flying over the site saw no signs that its pilot survived the crash, the report said.

The Cessna twin engine propeller plane went down Thursday about three hours after two F-15 fighter jets tried to make contact with the unresponsive pilot, who was the only person onboard.

The pilot was identified as Peter Hertzak of Slidell, La., NBC station WSDU of New Orleans reported.

Coast Guard Chief John Edwards said the plane landed right-side up on the ocean surface and floated for a while, but monitoring planes did not see a life raft deploy and never made contact with the pilot.

The Coast Guard spotted the Cessna 421 twin engine propeller aircraft circling erratically over the Gulf of Mexico at about 6:30 a.m. and the pilot was unresponsive to radio calls, according to Coast Guard District 8 Chief Petty Officer John Edwards in New Orleans.

Air Force jets dispatched to look into the plane were unable to see the pilot because of fog and icing that obscured the plane's windows, Coast Guard officials said.
The two F-15s from the New Orleans National Guard were already on a mission over the Gulf said a release from Edwards.

The Jacksonville Air Traffic Control Center asked the military if jets could check on the plane, which was orbiting near one of Eglin Air Force Base's warning areas over the Gulf, Edwards said. Eglin is on Florida's Panhandle.

A federal official says the plane took off Thursday morning from Slidell, La., en route to Sarasota, Fla. The Coast Guard was contacted after air traffic control lost contact with the pilot about 6 a.m. It flew until just after noon and then crashed into the water 120 miles west of Tampa, Fla., according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a search and rescue effort launched in the hours before the plane crashed, the Coast Guard dispatched an HC-144 Ocean Sentry from Mobile, Ala., an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Clearwater, Fla., and the Coast Guard Cutter Coho, an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Panama City, Fla., the Coast Guard web site said.

In a previous incident involving a "ghost plane,'' in 1999, the pilot and five passengers - including professional golfer Payne Stewart - were incapacitated when their Learjet lost cabin pressure. The plane flew on for four hours before finally crashing in rural South Dakota. All six people were killed.


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