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Investigators Seek Answers to Plane Crash Following Sonic Boom Scare

2023-06-06T12:02:20.205Z

Highlights: Four people were killed when a small private plane crashed in Virginia after failing to respond to air traffic controllers and flying over Washington, D.C. The military sent F-16 jets to intercept it, triggering a sonic boom heard across much of the region. The private business plane went down near Montebello, Virginia, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokesman for the Virginia State Police said in a statement Monday that emergency crews were able to reach the wreckage on foot about four hours after receiving a report of a plane crash.


Four people were killed when a small private plane crashed in Virginia after failing to respond to air traffic controllers and flying over Washington, D.C. The military sent F-16 jets to intercept it.


Federal authorities were investigating Monday what caused an unresponsive private plane to fly over Washington, D.C., on Sunday, triggering a response from military aircraft that triggered a sonic boom heard across much of the region before the small plane crashed in Virginia, killing all four people on board.

Surveillance cameras capture sonic boom from F-16s

The private business plane went down near Montebello, Virginia, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokesman for the Virginia State Police said in a statement Monday that emergency crews were able to reach the wreckage on foot about four hours after receiving a report of a plane crash.

Authorities secure the entrance to Mine Bank Trail, an access point to the rescue operation along Blue Ridge Parkway where a Cessna Citation crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, Sunday, June 4, 2023. (Randall K. Wolf via AP)

John Rumpel, who runs Melbourne's Encore Motors, a Florida-based company that owns the plane, said in a phone interview Monday that his daughter, Adina Azarian; his 2-year-old granddaughter; His nanny and pilot were on the plane and did not survive.

Search and rescue teams leave the command post in St. Mary's Wilderness en route to the Blue Ridge Parkway to search for the spot where a Cessna Citation crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, Sunday, June 4, 2023. (Randall K. Wolf via AP)

The plane, a Cessna 560 Citation V, crashed "almost in a straight line and at high speed," he said, adding that the impact caused a crater and debris was scattered over 150 meters.

Rumpel had said Sunday they were returning home to East Hampton, New York, after a four-day visit to their home in North Carolina.

Investigators had to reconstruct on Monday what went wrong on the flight, which had taken off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport (Tennessee) around 13:15 p.m. bound for MacArthur Airport on Long Island (Ronkonkoma, New York).

Fifteen minutes after takeoff, the pilot received an order from air traffic control to level at 9500 meters, but did not respond, said Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesman.

Joint Andrews Air Force Base, Md. . (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Instead, the aircraft continued to climb to a cruising altitude of 10,300 meters.

After arriving on Long Island, the plane did not attempt to land, but turned around and returned in the direction of where it had taken off, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

When the plane's pilot did not react, six F-16s were sent from bases in Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina, said Michael Dougherty, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Two F-16s from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland established initial contact with the plane, Dougherty said.

For half an hour, he said, the F-16s used a combination of maneuvers and flares in an unsuccessful attempt to get the pilot's attention.

Pilots who "visually inspected the Cessna" while it was in flight confirmed that the private jet pilot was unresponsive and "plummeted," said Capt. Alexandra Hejduk, a NORAD spokeswoman and member of the Canadian military.

In a statement Sunday, NORAD said fighter jets that responded to the unresponsive plane had been "authorized to travel at supersonic speeds," which would have produced the boom heard in the region, including suburban Virginia and Maryland.

Authorities determined the Cessna posed no threat and crashed in Virginia around 15:30 p.m., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

It was not shot down, according to authorities.

A White House official said President Joe Biden was informed of the incident.

Adam Gerhardt, an investigator for the NTSB, told reporters Monday that the agency would be on the ground for at least three or four days.

He said the wreckage was "very fragmented" and described the area as rural and mountainous.

"It will be a very difficult accident site," he said.

Gerhardt said it was not yet known whether the plane had a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, though he said the plane was not required to have such equipment.

Weiss, the NTSB spokesman, said one possibility the agency planned to examine was whether the plane might have lost cabin pressure, leading to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, for those on board.

Rumpel, who is also a pilot, said Sunday he had little information about the circumstances of the crash but hoped his daughter, granddaughter and others on board had not suffered.

His voice breaking, he said that if the plane had lost pressurization, "everyone would have fallen asleep and never woken up."

"It was descending at 6,000 meters per minute, and no one could survive an accident at that speed," Rumpel said.

Azarian, 49, worked as an agent for Keller Williams Points North in New York and Long Island.

The company said in a statement Monday that his death was a "profound loss" to colleagues and family.

On Sunday, people reported on social media that they had heard a loud boom throughout the Washington area.

Many said the noise sounded likean explosion, and some said the boom was so loud it shook their homes.

A sonic boom is caused by an object moving faster than sound, at about 750 mph at sea level.

Rafael Olivieri, 62, said he was at his home in Annandale, Virginia, when he heard a "loud, very short sound" that shook his home.

Olivieri ran away, where his neighbors were also trying to find out what had happened.

"The first thing I did was look at the sky," he said.

"I was really worried."

More than 50 miles to the northeast, in Edgewater, Maryland, Joseph Krygiel, 47, also felt the rumble.

He said he was in his basement shortly after 3 p.m. when the whole house shook.

"It felt like something big," Krygiel said.

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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