John Rumpel, a prominent donor to GOP politicians and initiatives, lost his daughter, granddaughter and two family friends on Sunday when their small plane crashed.
Their Cessna jet, owned by Rumpel, lost communications with control towers approximately 30 minutes after takeoff. Roughly an hour later, the plane veered into restricted airspace near Washington, D.C.
Authorities scrambled six F-16 fighter jets to intercept the light plane. One F-16 pilot reported seeing the pilot slumped over in his seat — unresponsive.
Minutes later, the plane spiraled downward, dropping 20,000 feet in the last minute before it crashed in a wooded area near Montebello, Virginia. There were no survivors.
Jeff Hefner, the private plane pilot, was a veteran flyer with 40 years of experience and a “strong reputation for safety in his profession,” according to The Western Journal.
Hefner was a retired Southwest Airlines pilot and served on the Southwest Airlines Pilots Union board of directors.
The Washington Post reported that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association released a statement reading:
“Jeff was a defender of his fellow pilots’ safety, careers, and family. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife, his family, and his friends. The aviation community has lost a true champion.”
Dan Newlin, a Florida attorney and friend of Hefner, noted that he had flown with Hefner over 100 times, adding that he called Hefner “Mr. Safety.”
“When it came to flying,” Newlin commented to the Post, Hefner “was always super serious, super cautious and very focused. He knew aviation inside and out. It was his passion.”
Newlin added that he had “hired Hefner for his firm after seeing Hefner’s 25,000 flight hours over his 25 years with Southwest and his certification as an aircraft mechanic.”
The Post reported the Federal Aviation Administration had recently granted Hefner its highest-level medical certification.
The investigation is ongoing, but many speculate the cabin lost pressure causing all four on board to lose consciousness quickly.
The Post reported: “Experts say publicly available data indicates the plane might have lost pressurization, leaving the pilot and passengers unconscious and the jet on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.”
The plane departed from Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was scheduled to land at Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York.
Former Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jeff Guzzetti told the Post: “Whatever happened, happened at altitude, which is a critical location to lose pressurization. The higher up in altitude you are, the less time you have to get on oxygen.”
CNN reported: “Pilots have 30 to 60 seconds to don oxygen masks if the plane is depressurized or risk falling unconscious” due to hypoxia.
The CNN report added:
“The onset of symptoms is so subtle that it’s hard for a person to tell when it is happening to them. They might begin breathing at an increased rate, feel dizzy, lose coordination, and experience impaired judgment. When a brain goes without oxygen for too long, the part of the brain that helps with respiration can stop working and prevent a person from breathing.”
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