Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did 'Ghost Plane' Fly for Hours?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did 'Ghost Plane' Fly for Hours?

Article excerpt

Searchers still hold out some hope for those aboard the private aircraft that seems to have flown on its own for hours before crashing off Jamaica Friday. But as the hours pass, the circumstances of what some are calling a "ghost flight" make that unlikely.

At this point, it's not known exactly why an experienced pilot flying a high performance turboprop Socata TBM700 aircraft apparently lost consciousness, allowing the plane to continue on for some 1,700 miles. But clues are starting to emerge.

On a recording made by LiveATC, a website 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]. 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 25,000 feet. "We need to get lower," the pilot responded. "Working on that," the controller said. The pilot was cleared down to 20,000 feet, which he acknowledged. But he did not respond when the controller called again several minutes later.

This would seem to indicate that the aircraft was having a problem with its pressurization and oxygen system, which is critical to survival at high altitude. Unless the situation is quickly recognized and acted upon, hypoxia - oxygen deprivation that can lead to unconsciousness - can cause incapacitation and then death.

When the pilot - prominent Rochester, New York, real estate developer Larry Glazer - failed to respond to air traffic controllers, US Air Force fighter jets were launched from South Carolina and then Florida to track the aircraft as it headed for Cuban air space. The fighter pilots reported seeing the pilot slumped over. Apparently he lost consciousness without descending below 25,000 feet. Presumably, the aircraft continued to fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

Jamaican authorities reported an oil slick. US Coast Guard ships and aircraft continued the search Saturday. …

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