WASHINGTON — The pilot of a private jet who crashed into rugged Virginia Fighter pilots saw it crumpled on the ground, killing all four people on board, who rushed to intercept the plane as it flew over Washington, DC, an official said.
The Cessna, pursued by military jets before going down Sunday, took off from Elizabethton, Tennessee, at 1:13 p.m. ET before air traffic controllers radioed in at 1:28 p.m. saying.
The plane, which was heading northeast toward Long Island, New York, turned around near New York City and was heading back south when fighter jets from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, were dispatched to investigate and they saw the pilot collapsed, the official said.
The plane ran out of fuel and crashed near Montebello, Virginia, at 3:32 p.m. The pilot remained silent and without communication with air traffic controllers for the final two hours of the flight, the official said.
On Monday, John Rumpel, whose corporation is the registered owner of the aircraft, identified three of those on board: Adina Azarian, 49; her daughter Aria, 2; and pilot Jeff Hefner.
Rumpel said he wasn’t entirely clear on the name of the fourth person, who he said worked as a nanny looking after the 2-year-old. He described Azarian as a former employee whom he and his wife, Barbara, adopted as a daughter when she was 40.
“You can’t imagine the pain,” he said.
The plane’s owner, whose Melbourne, Florida corporation is listed as a car sales business, said they lost a daughter years ago, when she was 19.
Barbara Rumpel said: “We are devastated by this horrible tragedy.”
In Virginia, the scene of the crash is in a “mountainous, remote and heavily forested area of Augusta County near the Nelson County line,” more than a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the police spokeswoman said. State, Corinne Geller.
First responders were unable to reach the scene on foot until 8:00 p.m. Sunday, Geller added.
It could be days before National Transportation Safety Board investigators corral the highly fragmented debris field, the agency said.
“Everything is on the table until we slowly and methodically remove different components and elements that will be relevant to this security investigation.” NTSB investigator Adam Gerhardt said.
The NTSB is leading the investigation. The officials arrived at the crash site near MontmyBeautiful on Monday to “begin the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft,” the agency said in a statement.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, said an F-16 fighter jet intercepted the plane after it veered off course over the US capital area. They tried to make contact with the pilot repeatedly using flares until just before the plane crashed near George Washington and the Jefferson National Forest.
NORAD said a sonic boom “could have been heard by residents of the region.” The sound was reported around 3 p.m. to local law enforcement agencies and on social media throughout the Washington-Northern Virginia-Maryland area.
Pilots from the Capital Guardians, a unit of the 113th Wing of the DC National Guard, discovered the pilot was incapacitated, a senior government official said.
It was not yet clear what might have incapacitated the pilot.
“The whole 180-degree turn around New York and then right over Washington, DC, sounds very strange to me,” said Jeff Guzzetti, an aviation analyst for NBC News.
“It is reminiscent of some type of mechanical malfunction with the pressurization of the aircraft, which would lead to the occupants becoming incapacitated from lack of oxygen,” Guzzetti said.
Jay Blackman reported from Washington, Chantal Da Silva from London and David K. Li from New York.
Tom Costello, The Associated Press, denis romero and valeriya antonshchuk contributed.