By Ray Sanchez and Greg Botelho
(CNN – Sept. 5, 2014) — A small plane flew for hours unresponsive from Rochester, New York, southward before crashing Friday off the coast of Jamaica, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The aircraft went down 14 miles northeast of the Jamaican parish of Portland, which is on the Caribbean Sea country’s northeast coast, Jamaica’s National Security Minister Peter Bunning said, citing preliminary reports.
Jamaican military aircraft were sent to the scene, said Bunning, who added that he understood U.S. aircraft had been dispatched to the area as well. Jamaica’s Coast Guard also moved toward the area, the government said via Twitter.
It was not immediately known who or how many people had been onboard.
The pilot of the single-engine aircraft — which had taken off at 8:45 a.m. ET from Rochester destined for Naples, Florida — stopped responding to radio calls at about 10 a.m. ET, according to the FAA.
U.S. Air Force and Transportation Security Administration officials contacted the Rochester airport’s director some 45 minutes later, Monroe County, New York, Executive Maggie Brooks said in a statement.
By 11:30 a.m., two U.S. fighter jets had been dispatched under the direction of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to go after the aircraft, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The F-15 pilots could see, before the small plane’s windows frosted, a pilot slumped over, according to a NORAD official. The official said one or two other people were believed to be on board, though the number was not confirmed.
The U.S. planes broke off before reaching Cuban airspace 12 miles off the island’s coast, NORAD said. The plane was then cruising at about 25,000 feet.
A Cuban fighter jet was later sent to trail the aircraft as it flew near that Caribbean island, according to NORAD. Cuba was cooperating with the United States on the matter and did not consider the plane’s movement a violation of its airspace, according to a Cuban source involved in conversations between the two nations.
The aircraft’s last known radar contact — according to the flight tracking site, FlightAware.com — was at 2:11 p.m. ET off of Jamaica.
At that time, the aircraft had dramatically lost airspeed to 176 knots (200 mph), down from a consistent 308 knots for most of its flight.
A federal aviation source had earlier told CNN that, based on the amount of fuel known to be aboard the aircraft, it likely would have run out around 2 p.m.
So what happened? It’s too early to tell, though NORAD tweeted that those on board may have suffered from hypoxia, a condition that sets in when a person doesn’t get enough oxygen.
Ted Soliday, executive director of the Naples, Florida, airport where the plane was headed, told CNN that he did not know how many people were on board the six-seat aircraft.
“Once it gets up that high, it can cruise at good speed with low fuel use,” he said. “We do not know the people or what their condition is,” Soliday said as the flight continued south. “They been flying for almost five hours. That’s a long time for that aircraft.”
The plane is a Daher-Socata TBM-900 aircraft built by the French manufacturer Daher-Socata and powered by one Pratt and Whitney engine.
According to aviation industry media reports from March, the Rochester-based commercial/industrial real estate development company Buckingham Properties had bought the plane.
A partner from that company did not immediately provide information, saying all Buckingham Properties officials know are what they have seen on CNN.