A wayward and unresponsive Cessna flew over DC on Sunday afternoon causing the military to scramble a fighter jet before the plane crashed in Virginia.
U.S. authorities were forced to respond swiftly when a light aircraft violated airspace in the Washington D.C. area and eventually crashed in southwest Virginia. A fighter jet was scrambled to intercept the errant Cessna Citation, resulting in a sonic boom over the U.S. capital that caused concern among Washington residents.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed that the Cessna aircraft crashed into mountainous terrain in southwest Virginia, coinciding with the sonic boom heard in Washington. A Cessna Citation typically has a capacity of carrying seven to twelve passengers.
Officials clarified that the crash was not caused by the jet fighters. However, an unnamed source familiar with the matter revealed that the Cessna was believed to be on autopilot and unresponsive to authorities.
The Cessna took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee with its destination set for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, located approximately 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan. The FAA announced that it would collaborate with the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the incident.
According to Flight Aware, a flight-tracking website, the plane appeared to have reached the New York area before making a sudden U-turn, leading to its eventual crash in Virginia.
ABC News reported that Air National Guard F-16s were dispatched from Joint Base Andrews, with at least one military pilot observing that the Cessna pilot had become unconscious.
While incidents involving unresponsive pilots are rare, they are not unprecedented. In 1999, golfer Payne Stewart and four others tragically lost their lives when their aircraft continued flying on autopilot, resulting in a crash in South Dakota. A similar incident occurred in 2014 when a small private plane crashed off the coast of Jamaica after deviating from its course toward southwest Florida.
The sonic boom caused widespread consternation among residents in the Washington area. Numerous reports flooded Twitter, with people describing a loud noise that shook the ground and walls. The impact of the fighter jet’s sonic boom was felt as far as northern Virginia and Maryland.
The specifics regarding why the Cessna was unresponsive, the cause of the crash, and the number of individuals on board remain unclear.
An anonymous U.S. official confirmed that the military jet was scrambled to intercept the small plane, which subsequently crashed. However, the official was not authorized to disclose further details. Flight tracking data showed a rapid spiraling descent by the jet, with a descent rate exceeding 30,000 feet per minute before crashing in the St. Mary’s Wilderness.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) stated that the F-16 was permitted to travel at supersonic speeds, resulting in the sonic boom. NORAD also mentioned that flares were used to capture the pilot’s attention. These flares, employed with utmost safety considerations, burned out quickly and posed no danger to people on the ground.
The crashed plane was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc. Barbara Rumpel, listed as the president of the company.
In a brief interview with Washington Post, John Rumpel confirmed he owns Encore Motors.
He confirmed the heartbreaking news that his entire family was on board the ill-fated plane during the time of the crash.
The family members included his daughter, a grandchild, and their nanny.
“Public aviation records said the plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company.
Reached by phone, John Rumpel said he was the owner of Encore. Asked whether the plane that crashed was owned by Encore, he said: “To the best of my knowledge.” Rumpel said his “entire family” was on board, including his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny. “We know nothing about the crash,” he said. “We are talking to the FAA now. … I’ve got to keep the line clear,” Washington Post reported.
Despite the incident, President Joe Biden’s activities were unaffected as he played golf at Joint Base Andrews. The U.S. Secret Service confirmed that the incident did not impact the president’s movements. Biden spent the afternoon golfing with his brother at the Maryland military base.
A White House official stated that President Biden had been briefed on the incident and noted that the sound resulting from the authorized military aircraft was barely audible at Joint Base Andrews.
The Pentagon and the D.C. Air National Guard did not provide immediate responses to requests for comment on the incident.
Virginia State Police says search efforts are underway for a possible plane crash in the Shenandoah Valley.
VSP announced around 5 p.m. Sunday, June 4, that it was notified shortly before 4 p.m. today. It says nothing has been located at this time and that it is unable to fly the area due to fog and low clouds within the mountains.
UPDATE as of 9:20 p.m.
Based on the most recent coordinates provided and from radio traffic, the crash site is two ridges north of the Parkway.