This radar image released by FlightAware.com shows the Cessna 421's… (AFP / Getty Images )
U.S. Coast Guard and Navy forces have been dispatched to the scene of a plane crash off the coast of Florida. So far there is no word about the fate of the pilot believed to have become incapacitated at the controls. The small aircraft circled aimlessly in the skies for hours over the Gulf of Mexico as anxious air traffic controllers watched helplessly.
Air traffic controllers apparently tried for hours to make contact with the pilot, but all attempts failed, pointing to the likelihood that the pilot had perhaps fallen unconscious at the controls, or perhaps suffered a heart attack.
FlightAware.com released the above image of the path of the plane, including the erratic and repetitive circular patterns it made over the Gulf of Mexico.
The prospect of an unresponsive plane flying out of control sent up alarms: Two F-15 fighters under the direction of North American Aerospace Defense Command out of 159th Fighter Wing in New Orleans reached the aircraft at about 9:30 a.m. local time. They also were unable to make contact with the pilot, according to a statement released Thursday.
The plane, which had departed Slidell, La., for Sarasota, Fla., continued its erratic flight over the gulf until it crashed shortly after 11 a.m. local time. Based on flight plan information, it's possible that the plane simply ran out of fuel. Additional details about the pilot -- including identity -- were not immediately available.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the crash took place about 120 miles west of Tampa, in the Gulf of Mexico. The plane is completely submerged, no longer visible from the surface of the water, officials said.
"We're saturating the scene," responding with multiple air and surface assets, Kevin Robb, the command duty officer for the 8th District command center overseeing the search effort, said in the statement.
Robb also added that the Coast Guard has also requested assistance from good Samaritans in the area, but so far had not received any responses.
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