PORT RICHEY — The U.S. Coast Guard was searching late Wednesday night for five people who disappeared when their plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico during stormy weather.
The twin-engine Cessna 421 from Texas is believed to have gone down about 20 miles west of Port Richey. A Jacksonville air-traffic controller contacted officials at about 3 p.m. after losing contact with the plane, Coast Guard officials said.
By 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Coast Guard reported it had found a 2-mile debris field within the search area.
"It's an active search and rescue," said Petty Officer Rob Simpson.
The Coast Guard deployed two rescue boats, two helicopters and its 87-foot-long cutter to search the 84-degree waters.
Officials on Wednesday night did not release the identities of the people who were on the plane.
The crew of the plane, which was built in 1979, left about 10 a.m. central standard time from the Collin County Regional Airport in McKinney, Texas, which is near Dallas.
The flight to Tampa was to take less than four hours, according to the Web site flightaware.com.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said controllers lost radar and radio contact with the plane when it was about 40 miles northwest of Tampa. The plane was en route to Tampa International Airport. At the time it vanished from radar, the plane was descending and was at about 5,000 feet, officials said.
"There was a report that it hit some turbulence," Peters said.
Forecasters say there were many thunderstorms in the area around the time the plane is believed to have gone down.
"They weren't particularly severe but they were gusty and it was just like a sea of them," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik. "It's kind of weird because this was in the forecast for the gulf for the last couple days."
Peters said he could not confirm how many people were on the plane, which is registered to Q4 Aviation LLC of Carrollton, Texas.
A Dallas TV station, CBS' KTVT, reported late Wednesday night that the people aboard the plane were employees of the company, which goes by the name Quality Powder Coating. The station reported that five men were on board — a company pilot, the company's owner and sales executives.
Efforts to reach the company late Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate when there is confirmation that the aircraft is in the water, Peters said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.