WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military was searching Saturday for a plane carrying three people that crashed off the coast of Jamaica in an incident that prompted rare coordination between Cuba and the United States.
The US Coast Guard, which indicated the number of passengers, said it was assisting Jamaican authorities in finding the seven-seater Socata TBM-700 single-engine turbo prop aircraft.
The passengers and pilot are presumed to be dead. New York authorities named the passengers as real estate entrepreneur Larry Glazer and his wife Jane.
The aircraft took off from the northeastern United States and flew south over Cuba and across the Caribbean on Friday, ignoring calls from air traffic control with its pilot, according to reports, unconscious in the cockpit.
The Cuban government authorized the US military to fly a C-130 cargo plane and two F-15 fighter jets over its airspace to investigate the incident, an official statement in Havana said.
The Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew were also diverted to assist in the search.
“During all the time (the plane was flying and not responding), we were communicating with the American authorities, who were informed of each of the measures taken in relation to this event,” the Cuban statement added.
Once the aircraft was detected by Cuban radar, “all control measures of our surveillance system… including those related to aeronautical search and rescue at sea were increased,” it said.
– ‘Unconscious’ pilot –
According to the tracking website FlightAware.com the flight took off from Rochester, New York at 8:26 am (1226 GMT) for Naples Municipal Airport in Florida.
The Federal Aviation Administration said flight controllers lost contact with the plane at 10:00 am, prompting the North American Aerospace Defense Command to scramble the fighter jets.
“They’ve broken off, we’re no longer monitoring it,” a NORAD official told AFP after the plane crossed into Cuban airspace.
NBC News, citing unnamed US officials, said the pilot was seen “unconscious and slumped over” in the cockpit.
The aircraft crashed in the water about 14 miles (23 kilometers) north of Port Antonio, Jamaica, according to the US Coast Guard.
Paying tribute to the two passengers on board, New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy said: “The Glazers possessed two of the brightest minds in business. Their business acumen was only matched by their integrity, philanthropy and community spirit.”
“They cannot be replaced.”
The United States and Cuba have not had full official diplomatic relations for more than half a century, but the Federal Aviation Administration said that the two countries routinely cooperate on air traffic control matters.
NORAD is the joint Canadian and American command in charge of maritime and aerospace warnings for the neighboring nations.