Sonic Boom, Intercept, and Nobody at the Helm

For those whom did not see the news, a Citation went down yesterday in what has markers of a hypoxia event with eventual fuel starvation. No souls survived. Will not surprise me if the final decision shows that the end result was unavoidable, so that is not part of the curiosity.

Question I am pondering is whether there are conditions (aside from busting airspace like the FRZ / ADIZ / TFR) where an intercept is normal procedure; or whether it is a judgement call. Put another way, it is highly likely that the PIC missed more than one sector hand-off, so was the silent flight passed to the next sector with a notation of 'unresponsive' and that is normal, or should the call for an intercept have occurred prior to the FRZ bust?

Just looking to learn from the community's better experts. Am certain that the Feds will publish details in a year or so, but I'd like to get a head start and see how we compare.


  • Don’t worry, Balancorio will have it all solved before any evidence can be recovered.

    I own and fly a 79 PA32RT-300T. Previous aircraft are a 79 Archer and 76 Arrow.

  • jacobsja,

    there are several Center and Tracon controllers on the forum who can probably speak to the standard FAA and NORAD "Ghost Plane," procedures, if a standard does exist.

    In the case of Payne Stewart, first intercept was made shortly after his Lear departed its assigned routing. In that case the intercept pilot reported he was unable to visualize the flight crew as the cockpit windows were frosted over. When you compare that with the report the Citation pilot was "clearly visible and slumped over," (according to the NY Times) it makes your wonder if the Citation accident was caused by something other than a loss of pressurization.


  • edited June 2023

    FWIW, lack of frosting does not automatically eliminate de-pressurization. Just means that if it did occur, it was not fast enough to allow frosting. Good point though that it might not have been hypoxia. Although, likely that whatever it was effected the entire cabin.

    And, Yes, am curious about the ghost plane procedures. Can accept that they might be privileged just as long as we have them. Have confidence that the final report will indicate when comms were lost, not to mention that somebody with enough free time can go diving through the Internet and listen for the non-returned calls.

    Also, when it comes to conjecture, I don't watch infuencers and wait for one of the larger organizations to publish based on analysis of facts.

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