The wreckage of the high-performance plane carrying Rochester real estate developer Laurence Glazer and his entrepreneur wife Jane – both experienced and enthusiastic pilots – has yet to be found.
On Friday night, United States fighters were launched to shadow the unresponsive aircraft and while flying alongside spotted the pilot slumped over and the windows frosting up.
The pilot – thought to be Laurence Glazer – had indicated there was a problem and twice asked to descend to a lower altitude before permission was granted by an air traffic controller, according to a recording of the radio conversation. Radio contact was lost a short time later. Rick Glazer said his parents were both licensed pilots. He said he could not say for sure they had been killed, adding that “we know so little”.
Numerous people have already offered their condolences for a couple described as a linchpin in efforts to rejuvenate the upstate New York city of Rochester, stung by the decline of corporate giants Kodak, former Ray Ban owner Bausch & Lomb and printing firm Xerox.
Senator Charles Schumer called the crash “a massive and heartbreaking loss for this community”.
“It deeply saddens me that Rochester has now lost two of its most indomitable, industrious visionaries,” Schumer said.
Laurence Glazer co-founded Buckingham Properties and served as its chief executive, working alongside two sons. Jane Glazer started QCI Direct, a retail catalogue business that employs 100 workers.
The single-engine turboprop Socata TBM700 took off at 8:45am on Friday from Greater Rochester International Airport headed for Florida.
Air traffic controllers were last able to contact the pilot at 10am.
On a recording made by the LiveATC website, which monitors and posts air traffic control audio recordings, the pilot can be heard saying: “We need to descend down to about 18,000ft. 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 25,000ft. “We need to get lower,” the pilot responded. “Working on that,” the controller said. Controllers then cleared the plane to descend to 20,000ft.
A couple of minutes later, a controller radioed the plane by its tail number: “900 Kilo November, if you hear this transmission, ident” – identify yourself. There was no response.
At 10.40 am, two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from a base in South Carolina to investigate. Then two F-15 fighters from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida followed the plane until it reached Cuban air space, where they peeled off, said Preston Schlachter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defence Command.
On a LiveATC recording, the fighter pilots, who could see into the cockpit of the Socata, can be heard discussing the pilot’s condition. “I could see his chest rising and falling right before I left,” one said.
“It may be a deal where he may regain consciousness once the aircraft starts descending for fuel,” the fighter pilot said. He was speculating that the Socata pilot was suffering from hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation.
John Goglia, an aviation safety expert, estimated there have been a handful of such incidents over the last decade.
Last Saturday, a private pilot lost consciousness and his plane drifted into restricted air space over Washington DC before it crashed into the Atlantic.