It was only five weeks ago that I was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at EAA Airventure 2014, watching a press conference by Daher Socata as they introduced the TBM 900. Now, sadly, the first one ever delivered to a customer has crashed into the sea near Jamaica, resulting in two fatalities.
Friday afternoon, Gawker reported that the plane had been met by F-15s after it missed its destination of Naples, Florida and did not respond to radio calls. Gawker originally reported the plane was a TBM 700, but it's actually a TBM 900.
The TBM 900 is the world's fastest single-engine turboprop. As of July, only 26 of the planes had been delivered to their owners. The owner of this particular plane, Larry Glazer was a real estate developer based in New York, as well as president of the TBM Owners Association. Glazer had owned the plane since March 20th of this year.
Glazer was a highly experienced and respected TBM pilot, having logged over 5,000 hours in the planes since 1994, beginning with the TBM 700. When Glazer took delivery of his new TBM 900 in March, he told AIN Online that he often flew the route between Rochester and Naples — the same route he was flying Friday. Near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a LiveATC recording indicated that Glazer told air traffic controllers that he needed to descend from 28,000 feet. The maximum altitude of the TBM 900 is 31,000 feet, so it wasn't flying higher than it should have been. Controllers cleared him to descend to 25,000 feet, but Glazer replied "We need to get lower." He was then cleared to 20,000 feet. He acknowledged clearance to descend, but this was the last transmission from the plane.
It continued to fly on the same heading to the south-southeast and missed its destination of Naples. The F-15s approached the plane and reported the pilot was slumped over and the windows were frosted. This indicates a loss of cabin pressure, resulting in oxygen deprivation, known as hypoxia. A similar event happened last week aboard a Cirrus SR-22. Hypoxia also killed professional golfer Payne Stewart in 1999, as he flew on a Learjet 35. Stewart's plane was en route from Florida to Texas when it went off course, eventually crashing in South Dakota.
While the cause of the crash is obviously not yet known, it seems that Glazer's series of requests for a lower altitude clearance suggests that he sensed something was wrong, but didn't descend quickly enough. Symptoms of altitude-related hypoxia include light-headedness / fatigue, numbness / tingling of extremities, and nausea.
Top photo: TBM 900 at EAA Airventure 2014 by Paul Thompson