The pilot of the TBM 900 that crashed in the sea near Jamaica after straying hundreds of miles off course on Friday twice asked Atlanta Center for clearance to a lower altitude because of an unspecified problem, but the controller handling the flight apparently didn't comprehend the seriousness of the emergency that was unfolding.
Minutes later, without receiving the requested clearance, the pilot stopped responding to ATC queries as the airplane flew on over the Atlantic on its last assigned heading.
Larry Glazer, the owner of the new TBM 900 and chairman of the TBM Owners and Pilots Association, was cruising at FL 280 from Rochester, New York, bound for Naples, Florida, at around 10 a.m. ET with his wife, Jane, when something went wrong.
"Nine Hundred Kilo November, we need to descend to about 180," the pilot informed the controller, sounding coherent and calm. "We have an indication that’s not correct in the plane."
The controller at that point told Glazer to stand by, and moments later cleared N900KN to descend to FL 250, to which the pilot responded more emphatically, "250, and we need to get lower, Nine Hundred Kilo November."
ATC next informed the TBM of opposite traffic ahead at FL 240 and instructed the pilot to turn left 30 degrees, which the pilot acknowledged. Nearly two minutes elapsed before ATC appears to clear the flight to FL 200. Glazer, slurring his speech, appears to acknowledge the instruction.
Moments later the controller cleared the TBM to the Taylor intersection, which the pilot also acknowledged. Another two minutes elapsed before the controller asked the pilot to confirm receiving an instruction to descend to FL 200, to which the pilot, badly slurring his speech, responded with, "Kilo November [sic] Nine Hundred Kilo November."
That was the last call from the TBM before contact was lost. Atlanta Center repeatedly tried contacting the flight with no response.
According to the LiveATC.net audio recording of the episode, the controller never asked the TBM pilot if he wished to declare an emergency. The TBM remained at FL 250 for the remainder of the flight before descending and crashing, apparently after running out of fuel.
The pilot of a Norad F-15 that was dispatched to intercept the TBM 900 has reportedly told investigators that he could see Glazer in the left seat, slumped over the controls but still breathing, according to ABC News.
The TBM 900 continued on its last assigned heading over Cuba and eventually crashed about 14 miles off the coast of Jamaica.
Search efforts for the downed airplane have been hampered by poor weather.
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