A small plane that flew unresponsive over Washington and triggered the launch of fighter jets from the capital crashed in Virginia with no survivors, US officials said today.
The four people on board the Cessna Citation were killed when the plane hit mountainous terrain yesterday afternoon about 275 kilometres south-west of Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The agency was investigating the cause of the crash.
F-16s had chased the plane at high speed — causing a sonic boom that shook windows and walls across Washington and its suburbs, startling residents for miles.
Virginia State Police said in a statement to AFP that first responders reached the crash site near Staunton by foot four hours after the incident.
“No survivors were found” and the search efforts were stopped, state police said.
President Joe Biden, who was at the White House and also played golf yesterday, was informed of the incident, an official said without saying whether any emergency measures were taken.
The civilian plane had left from Elizabethton, Tennessee heading for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the FAA said. But Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, showed it turned back after flying over Long Island and headed south over Washington and into Virginia.
“The FAA and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) will investigate,” and a preliminary accident report was expected later today, the FAA said in a statement.
US authorities had not officially named those on board, but two relatives of people believed to have been on the plane gave some initial details.
Public records showed the plane was owned by Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company, whose owner John Rumpel told The Washington Post his “whole family” was onboard, including his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny.
In reply to sympathy messages on her Facebook page, Rumpel’s wife Barbara Rumpel wrote on the platform last night: “My family is gone, my daughter and granddaughter.”
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said F-16 fighter jets “responded to an unresponsive Cessna 560 Citation V aircraft over Washington, DC, and northern Virginia.”
The command said it had tried to contact the pilot, but failed, until the plane crashed.