Investigators Seek Answers on Plane Crash After D.C. Sonic Boom Scare

Investigators Seek Answers on Plane Crash After D.C. Sonic Boom Scare

Investigators Seek Answers About Plane Crash That Followed Sonic Boom Scare

Four people died when a small private jet that had crossed into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., crashed in Virginia. The military scrambled F-16s to intercept it.

A loud noise that was heard across much of the Washington, D.C., area on Sunday did not pose a threat to the public, according to the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.Credit…Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty ImagesPublished June 4, 2023Updated June 5, 2023, 5:39 p.m. ET

Federal authorities on Monday were investigating what caused a private aircraft to fly into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., on Sunday, triggering a response by military jets that caused a sonic boom to be heard across much of the region before the small plane crashed in Virginia, killing all four people onboard.

The private business jet went down near Montebello, Va., the National Transportation Safety Board said. A spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police said in a statement on Monday that emergency responders were able to reach the wreckage on foot about four hours after receiving a report of a plane crash.

John Rumpel, who runs Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company that owns the aircraft, said in a telephone interview on Monday that his daughter, Adina Azarian, his 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were on the plane and did not survive.

The plane, a Cessna 560 Citation V, crashed “almost straight down and at a high speed,” he said, adding that the impact caused a crater, and the wreckage was spread over 150 yards. Mr. Rumpel had said on Sunday that they were returning home to East Hampton, N.Y., after a four-day visit to his home in North Carolina.

Fighter jets were sent from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after the Cessna entered the restricted airspace, prompting the emergency response to intercept the flight, military and U.S. officials confirmed on Sunday.

After the Cessna flew into the restricted area, which includes important national landmarks, the Federal Aviation Administration called the pilot but received no response from that plane, and the military ordered the jets to intercept, a military official said.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which oversees aerospace control over the United States and Canada, said in a statement that two F-16 jets were deployed on Sunday to intercept the Cessna.

NORAD said that the fighter jets “were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds,” which would have produced the boom that was heard in the region, including in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. The jets also used flares that may have been visible from the ground, the agency said, “in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot.”

Officials later determined that the Cessna did not pose a threat, and the investigation will look into why the pilot did not respond to the F.A.A. The Cessna was not shot down, the officials said. A White House official said President Biden was briefed on the incident.

The Cessna crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, according to NORAD. The F.A.A. said the plane went down around 3:30 p.m.

Adam Gerhardt, an N.T.S.B. investigator, told reporters on Monday that the agency would be on the ground for at least three to four days. He said the wreckage was “highly fragmented,” and he described the area as rural and mountainous.

“It will be a very challenging accident site,” he said.

Mr. Gerhardt said the inquiry would look at when exactly the pilot became unresponsive and why the plane flew the route that it did. He said it was not yet known if the plane had a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, though he said the aircraft was not required to have such equipment.

“Everything is on the table until we slowly and methodically remove different components and elements that will be relevant for this safety investigation,” Mr. Gerhardt said.

Mr. Rumpel, who is also a pilot, said on Sunday that he had little information about the circumstances of the crash, but hoped his daughter, granddaughter and the others on board had not suffered. His voice breaking, he said that if the plane lost pressurization, “they all just would have gone to sleep and never woke up.”




A Nest security camera outside a residence in Edgewater, Md., captured a loud noise, presumed to be a sonic boom caused by an authorized military flight.[loud noise]

A Nest security camera outside a residence in Edgewater, Md., captured a loud noise, presumed to be a sonic boom caused by an authorized military flight.CreditCredit…Joseph Krygiel“It descended at 20,000 feet a minute, and nobody could survive a crash from that speed,” Mr. Rumpel said.

Ms. Azarian, 49, worked as an agent for Keller Williams Points North, the real estate company, in New York City and Long Island. The company said in a statement on Monday that her death was a “profound loss” for colleagues and family.

The aircraft had taken off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tenn., and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., the F.A.A. said. The Cessna left Tennessee at 1:13 p.m. local time, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

The Annapolis Office of Emergency Management had also said on Twitter that the sonic boom resulted from an authorized Defense Department flight.

People reported on social media that they had heard a loud boom in across the Washington area. Many said the noise sounded like an explosion, and some said the boom was so strong that it shook their homes. A sonic boom is caused by an object moving faster than sound, or about 750 miles per hour at sea level.

Rafael Olivieri, 62, said he was at home in Annandale, Va., when he heard a “loud, very short sound” that shook his house. Mr. Olivieri ran outside, where his neighbors were also trying to figure out what had happened. “My first thing was looking to the sky,” he said. “I was really worried.”

More than 30 miles northeast, in Edgewater, Md., Joseph Krygiel, 47, also felt the boom. He said he was in his basement just after 3 p.m. when the whole house shook. “It felt like something major,” Mr. Krygiel said.

Derrick Bryson Taylor and Mark Walker contributed reporting.

Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for The Wall Street Journal. @julianbarnes • Facebook

Livia Albeck-Ripka is a reporter for The Times based in California. She was previously a reporter in the Australia bureau. @livia_ar

Christine Hauser is a reporter, covering national and foreign news. Her previous jobs in the newsroom include stints in Business covering financial markets and on the Metro desk in the police bureau. @ChristineNYT

Amanda Holpuch is a general assignment reporter. @holpuch  » …
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