The Coast Guard suspended the search Friday for a plane that flew around in circles for hours while authorities tried to contact the unresponsive pilot before it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Cessna, piloted by Dr. Peter Hertzak, 65, a physician from suburban New Orleans, went down Thursday as it was headed from Slidell, La., to Sarasota, Fla., authorities said Friday. Controllers lost contact with him and asked the military for help. Two F-15 fighter jets flew alongside and monitored the plane for about three hours, unable to contact Hertzak, before it crashed into the Gulf about 120 miles west of Tampa, Fla.
The Cessna 421C landed right-side up on the ocean surface and floated right after the crash, the Coast Guard said. However, it later sank in about 1,500 feet of water.
The Coast Guard dispatched two aircraft and a patrol boat to the area that searched for the plane and pilot for about six hours.
"This is one of those unfortunate cases where even though we stood ready to respond, we were unable to effect a rescue," Lane Carter, command duty officer for the Coast Guard's 8th District command center, said in a news release.
Eric Alleyne, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency would investigate the crash.
Two New Orleans National Guard jets were already on a mission over the Gulf when Jacksonville air traffic controllers asked the military if it could check on the plane that was flying erratically near one of Eglin Air Force Base's warning areas over the Gulf. The fighter jets caught up with the plane and reported that it was fluctuating between 25,000 and 35,000 feet and its windshield was iced over.
Hertzak is listed as an OB-GYN and cosmetic surgeon in Slidell, which is across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.