The plane that caused the scare lost contact shortly after takeoff: NTSB

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) – Air traffic controllers lost contact shortly after takeoff with the pilot of a small plane that caused a security scare on Sunday as it flew over highly restricted airspace near Washington, the United States said on Monday. authorities.

Four people, including the pilot of the Cessna Citation 560, died in the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said. The Department of Defense sent in F-16 fighter jets, creating a sonic boom over the US capital as they chased the Cessna.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the Cessna took off from Elizabethton, Tennessee at 1:13 pm EDT (1713 GMT) bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan. Controllers lost communication with the plane during its climb.

Air traffic control’s last communication attempt with the plane was around 1:28 p.m., the NTSB added.

The FAA said it reported the pilot did not respond to controllers from the national event network that includes military, security and law enforcement agencies around 1:36 p.m.

Authorities said the plane appeared to be on autopilot. The NTSB said the plane was at 31,000 feet and eventually climbed to 34,000 feet, where it remained until 3:23 p.m. when it began its descent. The plane crashed at approximately 3:32 p.m. in a heavily forested mountainous section of southwestern Virginia.

The NTSB said the Cessna flew over MacArthur Airport at 2:33 pm at 34,000 feet.

The NTSB said investigators do not yet know why the plane was on its specific flight path after overflying the destination airport.

NTSB investigator Adam Gerhardt said the wreckage was highly fragmented and in heavily wooded terrain that made it “a very challenging crash site.” The NTSB will remove the remains and move them to a safe location in Delaware.

The crash is reminiscent of other incidents involving unresponsive pilots. Golfer Payne Stewart died in 1999 along with four other people after the plane he was on flew thousands of miles without the pilot or passengers responding. The plane ultimately crashed in South Dakota with no survivors.

In the case of Stewart’s flight, the plane lost cabin pressure, causing the occupants to lose consciousness due to lack of oxygen.

The Cessna was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida, according to FAA flight records.

Encore owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post that his daughter, a grandson and their nanny were on board.

The US military tried to contact the pilot, who was unresponsive, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement. Military pilots also used flares in an attempt to get the pilot’s attention.

The Cessna was not required to have a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, the NTSB said.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Edited by Lisa Shumaker, Rosalba O’Brien, and Jamie Freed

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