Pensacola, Fla. — A small private plane with only an “unresponsive” pilot on board crashed into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday after circling for more than two hours, US officials said.
Officials at Slidell Airport in Louisiana, where the plane departed from, identified the pilot as Dr. Peter Hertzak, reports the IBTimes. Authorities believe that Hertzak was unconscious and was the only person on board the plane.
According to CNN, Hertzak took off from the airport en route to Sarasota, Florida when air traffic controllers lost contact with him. He was approximately 28,000 feet over the Gulf waters and began flying around in circles for several hours on Thursday at approximately 9:30am.
The plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed into the water where it slowly began to sink to the ocean floor.
The Air Force, which had dispatched fighter jets to monitor the aircraft — a twin-engine Cessna 421 — reported it crashed about 12:10pm.
As for the cause of the crash, the Coast Guard said an investigation was under way but had no details at the present time.
One aviation expert, former CNN correspondent Mike O’Brien, believes a loss of cabin pressure could have caused the pilot to lose consciousness.
“At 28,000 feet, you don’t have an awful lot of useful consciousness without the support of oxygen or being in a pressurized aircraft,” O’ Brien explained to CNN. “If a lone pilot is incapacitated at that altitude, there aren’t a lot of options for resuscitating him and getting him back flying.”
ABC News has more on the 2012 Gulf of Mexico plane crash in the video below: