The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading the investigation to determine what caused a Cessna plane to enter the restricted airspace of Washington D.C. on Sunday without responding to communications from airport authorities and ended up crashing in Virginia, killing its four occupants. after being followed by an F-16 fighter.
Federal authorities are analyzing the crash site near Montebello and "have begun the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft," the NTSB said in a statement Monday.
The American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said the fighter intercepted the plane after detecting that it was flying off course over the capital; He tried to contact the pilot repeatedly before it crashed around 3:30 p.m. (East Coast Time) near the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
The fighter detected that the pilot was incapacitated, a government source told NBC News, adding that the plane could have fallen when it ran out of fuel.
The private plane had taken off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, and was heading to MacArthur Airport on Long Island (New York), but turned around for unknown reasons when passing New York City and headed for Washington D.C.
They investigate what happened in the Cessna plane before it lost its way and crashed in Virginia
June 5, 202302:27
The plane was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne and its owner, John Rumpel, 75, told The New York Times that on board were his daughter, a 2-year-old granddaughter, and her nanny, who were returning home to East Hampton, New York, after a family visit in North Carolina.
The man also told The Washington Post that his "entire family" was on the plane and lamented that "no one could survive" given the speed of descent before crashing.
[Seat spacing makes evacuating a plane an arduous mission and lawmakers know it]
Flight monitoring portals showed the plane suffered a nosedive, descending at one point at a rate of more than 30,000 feet (just over 9,000 meters) per minute, before crashing into St. Mary's Wilderness Nature Park.
Search and rescue personnel leave a command post in St. Mary's Forest en route to Blue Ridge Parkway to search for the crash site of a Cessna Citation over mountainous terrain, Sunday, June 4, 2023, in Montebello, Va.Randall K. Wolf/AP
[He says he opened the door of the plane because he was suffocated and wanted to get off... at 700 feet]
NORAD blamed the F-16 fighter for the explosion heard in the capital on Sunday, when the plane exceeded the sound barrier.
"During this event, NORAD's aircraft also used flares — which may have been seen by the public — in an attempt to attract the pilot's attention," the statement said.
"Flares are used with the utmost care to the safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. They are consumed quickly and completely, and people on land are not in danger when used," the NORAD statement added.
Virginia State Police said their deputies were notified of a possible crash shortly before 4 p.m. and rescuers arrived on foot at the crash site about four hours later. They found no survivors, police added.
President Joe Biden was briefed, according to a White House official. The president was playing golf with his brother Jimmy at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sunday afternoon before returning to the White House in an entourage.
Experts and investigators who examine plane crashes involving incapacitated pilots often point to cabin depressurization and hypoxia, or oxygen loss, as culprits.
Hypoxia was cited as the cause of the 1999 Learjet crash that killed professional golfer Payne Stewart. It was also factored into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 flying from Kuala Lumpur to China on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.