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Coast Guard suspends search for incapacitated pilot after plane crash in Gulf of Mexico

The Coast Guard has suspended its search for a pilot who may have been unconscious when the private plane he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico and sank.

Crews spent about six hours trying to locate Dr. Peter Hertzak, a 65-year-old physician from suburban New Orleans, after his twin-propeller Cessna 421C went down Thursday about 120 miles west of Tampa, Fla.

The plane was headed from Slidell, La., to Sarasota, Fla., when it started flying around in circles for hours.

Air Force jets were dispatched to look into the plane after the pilot failed to respond to numerous communication attempts by controllers.

The jet crews were unable to see the pilot because of fog and icing that obscured the plane's windows, Coast Guard officials said. The icing is seen as a possible sign that the aircraft lost cabin pressure and the pilot was rendered unconscious.

The plane landed right-side up on the ocean surface and later sank.

Previous story: Downed private plane sinks in Gulf of Mexico

There was no sign that the pilot, believed to be the only person aboard, survived the crash. The search has been called off pending further developments, the Coast Guard said Friday.

"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.

Hertzak was a cosmetic surgeon and OB-GYN from New Orleans and was believed to have been flying to Florida for pleasure, according to media reports.

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