WASHINGTON - The pilot of a business jet that flew over D.C. and crashed in a remote part of Virginia appeared to be slumped over and unresponsive, two U.S. officials said Monday, recounting observations by fighter pilots who intercepted the wayward flight.
The revelations came as federal investigators trudged through rugged terrain to reach the site where the plane slammed into a mountain Sunday, killing four people.
The New York Times reported that the daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter of the plane’s owner, John Rumpel were aboard, according to Rumpel. The officials who said that the fighter pilots saw the civilian pilot slumped over had been briefed on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the military operation.
Police and rescuers reached the site of the plane crash in the Shenandoah Valley later Sunday. No survivors were found.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the Cessna Citation took off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee Sunday and was headed for Long Island’s MacArthur Airport.
However, the plane turned around over New York’s Long Island and flew a straight path down over D.C.
The F-16 scrambled to respond to the small plane, which wasn't responding to radio transmissions.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement that the F-16 was authorized to travel at supersonic speeds. This caused a sonic boom that was heard in Washington and parts of Virginia and Maryland. The boom triggered reports into the FOX 5 newsroom and online.
Flight trackers showed the plane dropped at one point at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute before crashing in the St. Mary’s Wilderness over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, around 3:30 p.m.
It was not immediately clear why the plane was nonresponsive, why it crashed or how many people were on board.
"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 NORAD 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 were notified of the potential crash shortly before 4 p.m. Rescuers reached the crash site by foot around four hours later. No survivors were found, they said.
The plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc, which is based in Florida.
Rumpel, who runs the company, told The New York Times that his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the plane.
Rumpel said they were returning to their home in East Hampton, on Long Island, after visiting his house in North Carolina, he said. Rumpel 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.
President Joe Biden was playing golf at Joint Base Andrews around the time the fighter jet took off.
A 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 that the sound of the scrambling aircraft was faint at Joint Base Andrews.
The Associated Press contributed to this report