The small plane that flew for hours in radio silence before crashing near Jamaica ran into trouble and sought to drop to a lower altitude before contact was lost with the New York real estate developer at the controls.
“We need to descend” to 18,000 feet (5,500 meters), the pilot, Laurence Glazer, told a U.S. controller yesterday, according to a recording on the LiveATC.net website. “We have an indication that’s not correct in the plane.”
Glazer’s Socata TBM700 turboprop never made it to its assigned flight level. Carrying Glazer and his wife, Jane, the single-engine craft cruised past its intended destination in Florida without responding to officials on the ground or U.S. fighter jets dispatched in pursuit. Four hours later, it plunged into the Caribbean Sea off Jamaica’s northern coast.
Efforts to find the plane have been unsuccessful so far, the Associated Press reported today. Debris spotted last night in the Caribbean could no longer be seen, according to Jamaica Coast Guard Commander Antonette Wemyss-Gorman, the AP reported.
The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement yesterday that it had sent a 154-foot cutter and a Jayhawk helicopter to help in the search for the plane, which carried three people on board. A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft from Clearwater, Florida, also has arrived in the area and is working with Jamaican authorities, according to the statement.
The private plane’s pilot was asked yesterday by the air-traffic controller if he was declaring an emergency, which would have lent more urgency to his request to descend, said a person familiar with the transmissions. The pilot said he didn’t need such treatment, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.
With other planes nearby, the controller couldn’t let the pilot down to the altitude he requested, the person said.
The plane’s extended flight, communication blackout and fogged cockpit windows were consistent with a loss of cabin pressure, according to a former accident investigator for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. At 25,000 feet, lack of oxygen would incapacitate a typical person in three to five minutes, according to an FAA medical guide.
Glazer, chief executive officer of Buckingham Properties LLC in Rochester, New York, was mourned by local leaders and politicians including Governor Andrew Cuomo. Friends said he flew often between Rochester and Naples, Florida.
The crash ended a high-altitude drama followed live on television and social media as controllers sought to raise the pilot over the Atlantic Ocean. A pair of F-15s broke off the chase as the plane left U.S. airspace and strayed over Cuba before coming down about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from Jamaica.
The U.S. and Jamaica sent ships to the site, the FAA said. Radar tracking showed the plane going down near Port Antonio, Jamaica, at about 2:15 p.m., it said. Greater Rochester International Airport said the plane departed at 8:45 a.m.
“It’s a very, very sad thing,” said Rich LeFrois, a local developer who’s an investment partner of Laurence Glazer’s. “He was probably one of the most experienced and safest pilots I ever flew with.”
A loss of cabin pressure is certain to be among the areas probed by authorities, according to Steve Wallace, the former chief of the FAA’s accident investigation branch. The obscured windscreen is one of the indications of pressure loss, he said.
“The problem is the insidious undetected loss of cabin pressure where it just creeps up and pilots doze off before they realize what’s happening,” Wallace said.
The plane had been at 28,000 feet when Glazer first asked to get lower, according to the LiveATC.net recording. The controller initially cleared him to drop to 25,000 feet.
“We need to get lower,” Glazer replied.
“Working on that,” the unidentified controller said.
Within 30 seconds, the controller told Glazer to turn 30 degrees to the left, according to the recording.
Glazer acknowledged by saying, “Thirty degrees left.”
A short time later, the controller told him he was clear to descend to 20,000 feet. While Glazer confirmed the instruction, the plane didn’t descend. Afterward, a controller tried to reach him at least six times during a four-minute period. The Socata was still flying at 25,000 feet as it left U.S. airspace, according to data tracker FlightAware.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command sent fighters aloft to monitor the plane, a standard procedure for unresponsive aircraft. Fogged windows on the Socata prevented the military pilots from seeing into the cockpit, said Preston Schlachter, a Norad spokesman. The pilot hadn’t answered radio calls since 10 a.m., according to Norad.
Laurence “Larry” Glazer flew frequently between upstate New York and Florida, according to Steve Scruggs, president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council in Florida. Glazer purchased at least four or five properties in the area, primarily office and industrial properties, since the mid to late 2000s, Scruggs said.
“Larry flies back and forth here a lot, because of his real estate investments and he has a home in Naples,” Scruggs said. “That’s where he was headed.”
A phone call yesterday to the offices of Rochester-based Buckingham Properties went to voice mail. The real estate development and management company oversees 60 properties totaling more than 10 million square feet, according to its website.
Glazer was very concerned about safety and had just returned from a week of pilot training, said LeFrois, the developer. While Glazer had only recently acquired the Socata, he was an experienced pilot who had been flying “for 20-plus years,” LeFrois said.
Oxygen starvation, known as hypoxia, may be difficult for pilots to recognize, according to the FAA.
“One noteworthy attribute of the onset of hypoxia is that the first symptoms are euphoria and a carefree feeling,” the agency said in the medical guide.
It can cause impaired judgment, slower reaction times and eventual loss of consciousness, according to the agency.
Hypoxia has been cited in dozens of aircraft accidents, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. The NTSB listed hypoxia among the causes of an Aug. 24, 2012, crash in Milner, Colorado, that killed a pilot. The student pilot, who had flown as high as 18,000 feet, also tested positive for alcohol and marijuana in his system, according to the NTSB.
A small plane that flew over Washington’s restricted airspace on Aug. 30 after the pilot became unresponsive flew east over the Atlantic Ocean, where it crashed.
Golfer Payne Stewart and five others died in an Oct. 25, 1999, Learjet crash after oxygen flow to the cabin was cut off by a closed cabin-pressure control valve. The plane left Orlando, Florida, en route to Dallas and veered off track before crashing near Aberdeen, South Dakota, when it ran out of fuel.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at [email protected] Stephen West, Nancy Moran
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