Peter Hertzak was killed in a Pensacola, Florida airplane accident on Thursday, according to reports. Hertzak, 65, was a cosmetic surgeon and OB-GYN from New Orleans and is believed to have been flying to Florida for pleasure. Investigators are currently working to determine whether a malfunction may have been responsible for the crash; initial reports from military pilot indicate that the crash may have been a result of a loss of cabin air pressure. It is not clear whether Hertzak’s family plans on filing a wrongful death suit.
According to reports, Hertzak took off alone from Slidell Airport in a Cessna 421C that he owned. Hetzak reportedly planned on flying to Sarasota, Florida, but the plane ended up going down in the Golf of Mexico for unknown reasons. Sources indicate that Hertzak stopped responding to Jacksonville, Florida air traffic controller communications at approximately 9:00 a.m., and that air traffic controllers asked New Orleans National Guard jets to check on him, as they were in the area.
Two fighter jets were able to locate the Cessna 421C, which they reported had an iced-over windshield and was fluctuating from 25,00-35,000 feet. An iced-over windshield is sometimes an indication of a loss of cabin pressure, which can lead to lack of oxygen and subsequent asphyxiation for the plane’s occupants.
The plane was apparently going in circles over the water for hours before it crashed. The jets were unable to communicate with Hertzak, who is believed to have been incapacitated at that time. The fighter jet pilots watched as Hertzak’s plane descended in a corkscrew pattern and crashed into the ocean at approximately 12:10.
Reports indicate that the plane floated right-side up in the water before sinking approximately 120 miles off of the coast of Tampa, Florida. Coast Guard crews have sent a helicopter, a C130, and a cutter to try to locate floating remains of the crash. It is not clear whether recovering the plane will be possible, as it is believed to have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
A mechanic and longtime friend of Dr. Hertzak told the press that the doctor has been a very good pilot and that he was judicious about maintaining his aircraft. Hertzak had reportedly been a licensed private pilot since 2008, and there is no record of him ever crashing before. Hertzak’s family has yet to speak publicly about the loss.
Pilots and other plane occupants can lose consciousness due to airplane malfunctions such as cabin pressure loss, which is a common cause of airplane accident. One such tragedy occurred in 1999, when pro golfer Payne Stewart’s private plane lost cabin pressure, rendering all of its’ occupants unconscious. The Learjet, which was bound for the Tour Championship in Houston, ended up crashing into a field in South Dakota. All five persons aboard were killed.
Ground control reportedly lost contact with the airplane’s pilots at approximately 9:33 a.m., and a series of planes were dispatched to keep track of the plane as it veered off course and eventually ran out of fuel. An investigation into the incident revealed that the plane had undergone maintenance for cabin pressure several times in the months following up to the crash. Also, military jets dispatched to check on the plane reported seeing condensation on the window.