Officials: ‘No survivors’ after crash of plane that prompted regional alert

Search and rescue teams leave the command post at St. Mary's Wilderness en route to the Blue Ridge Parkway to search for the site where a Cessna Citation crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Va., Sunday, June 4, 2023. (Randall K. Wolf via AP)(AP/Randall K. Wolf)

Officials have reported there were no survivors following the crash of an unresponsive small plane near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.

The plane, which had been unresponsive to radio contact, prompted the scrambling of F-16 aircraft to intercept it, causing a loud sonic boom that echoed throughout the region on Sunday afternoon.

The Virginia State Police said first responders located the crash site late Sunday evening, and that search efforts have been suspended as no survivors were found. Aerial images from NBC Washington showed debris amid a patch of burnt forest on a mountainside.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the private business jet was owned by Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company.

The owner, John Rumpel, 75, told the New York Times that “his daughter, a 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the flight. He said they were returning home to East Hampton, New York, after a four-day visit to his home in North Carolina.”

NORAD released a statement on Sunday evening, confirming that two F-16 fighter aircraft had been deployed from Joint Base Andrews to intercept an unresponsive Cessna aircraft that had passed over D.C. and Northern Virginia.

NORAD officials reported that the Cessna 560 Citation V had been intercepted by the F-16s around 3:20 p.m. The pilot remained unresponsive, and the plane ultimately crashed near Montebello in the vicinity of the George Washington National Forest, within Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, around 3:30 p.m.

The Secret Service confirmed that President Joe Biden was playing golf with his brother at Joint Base Andrews around the time the F-16s were deployed. They said the president was briefed, but that the incident “had no impact on the president’s movements.”

The U.S. Capitol Police tweeted that the complex was briefly placed on “elevated alert until the airplane left the area.”

The FAA informed that the Cessna had taken off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, and was expected to land at MacArthur Airport in Long Island. For reasons not yet explained, the plane turned around over Long Island and began heading toward the D.C. region, according to The Associated Press.

The flight path of the downed Cessna 560 Citation aircraft. (Courtesy FlightAware)

According to NORAD, “aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region.”

Flares were also used as a part of their mission to alert the unresponsive pilot, which may have been seen by civilians on the ground.

WTOP received dozens of calls and emails from listeners reporting a loud boom in the Annapolis and Bowie areas of Maryland. Social media reports spoke of a similar noise in Northwest D.C., as well as in areas of Springfield and Woodbridge in Virginia.

WTOP’s Ciara Wells contributed to this report. 

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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