New details are emerging regarding the crash of a private jet that flew over restricted airspace near Washington, D.C, on Sunday, prompting the scrambling of six F-16 fighter jets.
The plane crashed in a wooded area near Montebello, Virginia. There were no survivors.
John Rumpel, a prominent donor to GOP politicians and initiatives, owned the plane. Rumpel reported he lost his daughter, granddaughter and two family friends in the crash.
New information on the crash comes from one of the F-16 pilots who intercepted and conducted a “visual inspection” of the plane that was not responding to repeated radio contact attempts.
The Washington Post reported that when one of the F-16 pilots pulled alongside the Cessna Citation, he observed the light plane pilot “sitting in the left seat of the plane while being slumped toward the plane’s right side.”
The pilot was apparently unconscious. A flare burst from an F-16 firing failed to rouse the Cessna pilot. The private jet crashed 12 minutes later.
Military officials scrambled six F-16 jets when the small plane veered into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C. Military officials ordered two F-16s to approach the Cessna jet. The need to intercept the Cessna Citation quickly prompted military pilots to fly near maximum speed, causing a sonic boom heard by more than a million people.
John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman commended the F-16 pilots, saying they “did exactly what they were supposed to do — try to get on the radio, communicate to the pilot. That wasn’t working. Made themselves visible. That didn’t work. And tragically, it ended, obviously, in the crash and the death of all on board.”
Many speculate that the Cessna jet lost cabin pressure, leading to all on board quickly losing consciousness.
At this preliminary investigation stage, the Federal Aviation Administration will only say the four on the plane died “under unknown circumstances.”
The private jet was one of several operated by Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida. Records show John Rumpel and his wife own the company.
Aboard the plane was Rumpel’s daughter Adina Azarian; his granddaughter, Aria; their nanny; and the pilot, Jeff Hefner.
Reuters reported the plane departed from Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was scheduled to land in Long Island, New York. Communication was lost 15 minutes after take off.
The Post reported the plane was at 31,000 feet when communication was lost.
Jeff Guzzetti, a former FAA and NTSB investigator, reported tracking data indicated the plane was at 34,000 feet when it flew past its destination, then turned south and soon spiraled and crashed.
Guzzetti added that records show the plane’s right engine was out of fuel when it crashed.
ABC News reported that William Waldock, a professor of safety science who teaches aircraft accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said cabin pressurization was “the most likely suspect.”
Waldock added: “It went up to 34,000 feet and basically stayed there — all the way up, all the way back. The turn [away from New York and back south] is a little perplexing. But it kind of depends on what kind of autopilot system the aircraft had.”
Anthony Brickhouse, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and director of its Aerospace Forensic Lab, shared that “Hypoxia occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen.”
“It’s almost like you’re getting groggy,” Brickhouse said, “and you just can’t, you can’t piece things together. And eventually, you lose consciousness.”
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