WASHINGTON, D.C. - A wayward and unresponsive Long Island-bound business plane that flew over the nation's capital caused the military to scramble a fighter jet before the plane crashed in Virginia, officials said. The fighter jet caused a loud sonic boom that was heard across the capital region.
Hours later, police said rescuers had reached the site of the crash in a rural part of the Shenandoah Valley. No survivors were found.
Timeline of events
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Cessna Citation took off Sunday from Elizabethtown, Tennessee and was headed for Long Island’s MacArthur Airport.
Inexplicably, the plane turned around over Long Island and flew a straight path down over D.C. before it crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, around 3:30 p.m.
The plane took off from Tennessee and was headed for Long Island when it inexplicably turned around and flew a straight path down over D.C. before crashing in Virginia, the FAA said.
It was not immediately clear why the plane was nonresponsive, why it crashed or how many people were on board. The plane flew directly over the nation's capital, though it was technically flying above some of the most heavily restricted airspace in the nation.
A U.S. official confirmed to The Associated Press the military jet had scrambled to respond to the small plane, which wasn't responding to radio transmissions and later crashed. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the military operation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Flight tracking sites showed the jet suffered a rapid spiraling descent, dropping at one point at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute before crashing in the St. Mary’s Wilderness.
North American Aerospace Defense Command statement
The North American Aerospace Defense Command later said in a statement the F-16 was authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, which caused a sonic boom that was heard in Washington and parts of Virginia and Maryland.
"During this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares, which may have been visible to the public, in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot," the statement said. "Flares are employed with highest regard for safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. Flares burn out quickly and completely and there is no danger to the people on the ground when dispensed."
Virginia State Police said officers were notified of the potential crash shortly before 4 p.m. and rescuers reached the crash site by foot around four hours later. No survivors were found, police said.
The plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc, which is based in Florida.
John Rumpel, who runs the company, told The New York Times his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the plane. They were returning to their home in East Hampton, on Long Island, after visiting his house in North Carolina, he said.
Rumpel, a pilot, told the newspaper he didn't have much information from authorities, but hoped his family didn't suffer and suggested the plane could've lost pressurization.
"I don’t think they’ve found the wreckage yet," Rumpel told the newspaper. "It descended at 20,000 feet a minute, and nobody could survive a crash from that speed."
A woman who identified herself as Barbara Rumpel, listed as the president of the company, said she had no comment Sunday when reached by The Associated Press.
White House official responds
President Joe Biden was playing golf at Joint Base Andrews around the time the fighter jet took off.
Anthony Guglielmi, spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, said the incident had no impact on the president’s movements Sunday. Biden was playing golf at the Maryland military base with his brother in the afternoon.
A White House official said the president had been briefed on the crash and the sound of the scrambling aircraft was faint at Joint Base Andrews.
MICHAEL BALSAMO and ASHLEY THOMAS, with the Associated Press, helped contribute to this report.
Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Zeke Miller in Washington and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles also contributed to this report.