A private jet carrying four people that was due to land in Germany but which continued to fly across Europe as air traffic controllers tried unsuccessfully to make contact crashed off the Latvian coast, authorities said.
The jet "was flying between Spain and Cologne but when it changed course, air traffic controllers were not able to make contact", the Latvian civil aviation agency said in a statement.
Pilot Reported Cabin Pressurisation Problem Shortly After Takeoff
The Cessna Citation 551 jet, which had taken off from the Spanish city of Jerez in the afternoon, disappeared from radar while flying over the Baltic Sea northwest of the Latvian port city of Ventspils.
The German newspaper Bild said that the plane had reported shortly after takeoff that there was a problem with pressurisation in the cabin. The aircraft, registered in Austria, was carrying a family of three â a man, a woman and their daughter â in addition to the pilot.
Fighter jets from Germany, Denmark and Sweden were scrambled to try to make contact with the crew in the air as the plane continued to fly across northern Europe, "but they saw no one" inside the cockpit of the plane, Swedish search and rescue operation leader Lars Antonsson told AFP.
No Human Remains Found at Crash Site, Passengers 'Incapacitated Onboard'
The plane flew relatively steadily until it neared the Latvian coast, when it rapidly lost altitude. It crashed "when it ran out of fuel", Antonsson said.
"Rescue teams with boats and helicopters from Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden are working at the crash site," the Latvian aviation agency said. "No human remains have been found," Antonsson noted.
"We have no explanation at all, we can only speculate" about what happened, Antonsson said, "but they were clearly incapacitated onboard."
Aviation safety expert Hans KjÃ¤ll told Swedish news agency TT that cabin pressure problems could have caused passengers to lose consciousness. This can happen quickly, especially at altitudes where small aircraft are used, he added.