F-16 flew supersonic to intercept a plane over DC and saw the pilot collapsed

The pilot of a military jet who rushed to intercept a private jet flying over DC before it crashed in rural Virginia saw the plane’s pilot go down, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The development, described by people who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, came as investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene Monday of a private plane crash related to a sonic boom that it was heard a day earlier in the Washington region.

Adam Gerhardt, the lead investigator, said he expects his team to be on the scene for three to four days, with investigators facing remote mountainous terrain.

“It will take us a long time to get to the crash site,” Gerhardt told reporters near the scene on Monday. “The remains are very fragmented.”

Experts said publicly available flight data suggests the pilot had fallen unconscious, most likely due to a loss of pressurization, and that the plane was flying on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. The Federal Aviation Administration said preliminary information shows the pilot and three passengers died, which it said occurred “under unknown circumstances.”

John Rumpel, 75, said authorities told him that all four people on the plane, including his daughter and 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, had died. Rumpel said police told him they were still investigating what caused the incident, but the plane likely crashed after losing pressurization.

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The Cessna Citation left a small airport in Tennessee on Sunday and was headed for Long Island, but turned south after reaching New York and eventually flew over DC. The two people familiar with the investigation said contact with the plane was lost about 15 minutes later. his departure when he was passing through Virginia for the first time.

They said the pilot of a military jet saw the Cessna pilot sitting in the left seat leaning to the right.

Six F-16s have been removed from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and two other facilities, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday. Commanders gave the F-16s a rare clearance to fly at supersonic speeds over an urban area to intercept the private plane, sparking the boom, a sign of the urgency of the military response.

“It is important that the response aircraft, in this case the F-16s, get to the situation as quickly as possible,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Devin Robinson. “This allows more time for people on the ground to perform procedures and more time to make decisions.”

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Military jets and air traffic controllers were unable to make contact with the plane, authorities said, and it crashed around 3:30 p.m. in Augusta County. First responders arrived at the crash site around 8:00 p.m. Sunday, according to the Virginia State Police.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that officials were on the phone while receiving real-time updates from the F-16 pilots and that the president was briefed.

“They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Kirby said of the military pilots. “Try to get on the radio, contact the pilot. That wasn’t working. They became visible. This is not functional. And tragically, it ended, obviously, in the accident and the death of all on board.”

Augusta County, Virginia, sheriff’s deputy Leslie Snyder said the crash site is near the Blue Ridge Parkway. She described the area as extremely remote, with no cell phone service.

NTSB investigators will document the crash scene and examine the aircraft wreckage, as well as collect radar information, weather data, aircraft maintenance records and pilot medical records.

The board is expected to release a preliminary report in about three weeks, summarizing the facts that investigators have gathered. A final report including a formal cause is likely to take at least a year.

Jeff Guzzetti, a former FAA and NTSB investigator, said flight-tracking data suggests the pilot was not in control of the private plane long before it arrived in New York.

Rocket, a rescue dog, was startled by a loud bang at the Fairfax, Virginia, station on June 4. The sound was caused by fighter jets rushing to intercept a plane. (Video: The Washington Post)

The aircraft did not attempt to descend to its Long Island destination and appeared to have turned around to return to Tennessee. Guzzetti said that would indicate the plane was flying on autopilot.

“Whatever happens, it happened at altitude, which is a critical place to lose pressurization,” Guzzetti said. “The higher you are, the less time you have to receive oxygen.”

The plane continued to fly at about 34,000 feet until it began to spiral toward the ground. Guzzetti said the final minutes of the flight indicate that the plane’s right engine ran out of fuel.

It will be up to the NTSB to determine what may have caused the plane to lose pressure and why the pilot was unable to use an oxygen system. Guzzetti said investigators will want to know when the oxygen system was last checked and if maintenance records reveal any problems with the plane.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the NTSB to answer these questions given the destruction of the wreckage,” he said.

A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command said two planes “inspected” the Cessna, which was intercepted around 3:20 p.m. The pilot was unresponsive and crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, authorities said. . The military did not shoot down the plane and there is no indication that the interception caused the crash.

The crash site is about 160 miles southwest of Washington.

FAA records indicate the plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company. FAA records indicate that the aircraft was recently acquired by Encore. Guzzetti said the transaction would have involved an inspection by the FAA, but only a cursory one that likely would not have delved into the condition of the plane’s pressurization system.

Sonic boom in DC region caused by F-16 intercepting Cessna

The sonic boom, which was heard from Springfield, Virginia, to Bowie, Maryland, according to social media reports, shocked residents of the Washington region on Sunday afternoon. For about an hour, the cause of the sound remained a mystery until local authorities confirmed that it had been caused by fighter jets.

All six F-16s scrambled in response to the situation simultaneously, including two with the DC Air National Guard’s 113th Fighter Wing arriving at the Cessna first after launch from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The other planes were with the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, flying out of Atlantic City, and the South Carolina Air National Guard’s Fighter Wing, responding out of McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Robinson said.

Robinson said the intercept occurred about 20 miles northeast of Reagan National Airport. It was not clear on Monday where the military plane crossed the sound barrier, a phenomenon that creates a change in air pressure that results in a loud rumble.

The military often intercepts unidentified objects or aircraft that aren’t making regular checks with ground controllers below, but it’s rare for commanders to authorize supersonic travel over an urban area.

Other recent US military interceptions include a series of maneuvers earlier this year to target unidentified objects flying over the United States, after an alleged Chinese surveillance aircraft made a cross-country flight beginning over Alaska and ending with its shot down by F-22 fighter jets off the coast of South Carolina. Other objects were intercepted over Alaska and over the Midwest, with one shot down over Lake Huron.

Aviation industry experts, without reaching conclusions about the cause of the crash, pointed to the 1999 deaths of professional golfer Payne Stewart and five other people on Monday after their commercial plane flew for hours without a pilot controlling the aircraft. .

F-16 pilots who had rushed to monitor the Learjet finally saw it plummet towards Aberdeen, SD NTSB investigators concluded that the pilots were incapacitated because they were not given supplemental oxygen after the cabin lost pressure.

But in a sign of the complexities of such probes, the researchers couldn’t determine why the pilots couldn’t get the oxygen fast enough.

According to the NTSB, hypoxia, the lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood and body tissues, can cause symptoms ranging from drowsiness and slurred speech to unconsciousness or death. The safety agency cited research showing that rapidly depressurizing an airplane cabin can impair pilots’ cognitive functioning within eight seconds.