Rescuers scoured Caribbean waters Saturday for signs of a prominent New York couple whose unresponsive plane crashed north of Jamaica a day earlier.
An airborne Jamaican military search team spotted what could be debris of the plane Friday about 24 nautical miles north of Port Antonio, and coast guard assets will try to relocate and verify the finding Saturday, the country’s military said.
The single-engine TBM-900 aircraft, owned by estate developer Larry Glazer and his wife, Jane, crashed into the Caribbean long after the pilot told an air traffic controller that something was wrong as it flew south over the Eastern United States.
Military spokesman Basil Jarrett said he could not confirm the debris was that of the unresponsive plane but “our pilots are very confident that the sighting is consistent with that of a high impact debris field, and this has since been corroborated by a United States Coast Guard C130 aircraft involved in the operation.”
Before the crash, the plane’s radio was silent for hours after the pilot’s call, prompting U.S. and Cuban military jets to trail the small private plane hours before it crashed. The North American Aerospace Defense Command said those aboard might have suffered from hypoxia, which sets in when oxygen is lacking.
There were conflicting reports on how many people were in the plane, with the U.S. Coast Guard indicating there were three.
But relatives said the couple were the only two people in it and were headed from Rochester, New York, to their vacation home in Naples, Florida.
Those aboard were unresponsive for more than four hours, drifting southward over the U.S. mainland, the Atlantic Ocean and eventually into the Caribbean.
Pilot seen slumped over
U.S. fighter jet pilots said when they looked into the aircraft, they saw the pilot slumped over and the windows frosted.
The plane’s radio communication ended about 10 a.m. ET Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
At that time, it was above Statesville, North Carolina, about 600 miles south of the Rochester airport from which it set off around 8:45 a.m.
The pilot asked to descend to 18,000 feet because “we have an indication that is not correct in the plane,” according to a stream of that transmission posted on LiveATC.net. which provides live air traffic control broadcasts.
The air traffic controller told the pilot to “stand by” and proceed to 25,000 feet as he worked on clearing the plane to go lower. The conversation continued off and on for more than four minutes, though it was largely one-sided: The pilot wasn’t clear in his remarks and didn’t declare any sort of emergency.
At one point, he simply repeated his call sign twice when the controller asked if he heard the request to drop down to 20,000 feet.
Data indicate the plane didn’t descend. It cruised for hours about 25,000 feet above the ground.
The private plane dropped off radar at 2:11 p.m., according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.com.
Estimates suggested the fuel would have run out at 2:15 p.m.
It crashed 14 miles off Jamaica’s northeast coast.
Fate of couple unknown
Jamaica and the United States swiftly dispatched government aircraft to the scene. Jamaican authorities found an oil slick in the prime search area, according to Jarrett of the nation’s defense force.
As they searched, the Glazer family in Rochester mourned. The couple has three children.
The children said in a statement they were “devastated by the tragic and sudden loss of our parents.” They said they are waiting for answers.
Larry Glazer co-founded Buckingham Properties in 1970 after graduating from Columbia University. The company owns and manages more than 50 properties in the greater Rochester area, according to his official bio.
The TBM-900 plane was owned by the company.
Jane Glazer founded QCI Direct, a 100-employee company that has an outlet store, according to its website.
Both Glazers knew how to fly.
U.S., Cuban fighter jets trail aircraft
The government stepped in when the plane lost communications with air traffic control.
NORAD dispatched two F-16 fighter jets from a base in Richland County, South Carolina. Another pair of fighter jets from Homestead, Florida, took over around 11:30 a.m. and escorted the plane past the U.S. mainland.
The American fighter jets broke off their pursuit 12 miles off Cuba, at which point a Cuban fighter jet took over.
Despite the longstanding tensions between the two countries, Cuba cooperated with the United States and did not consider the plane’s movement a violation of its airspace.
Cuba let the U.S. Coast Guard aircraft go through its airspace and gave permission for American “military aircraft, if necessary,” according to an official statement.