The pilot of the Florida plane that went down in Virginia was slumped and unresponsive, officials say

WASHINGTON (AP) — The pilot of a corporate jet that was flying over Washington and crashed in a remote part of Virginia appeared to be slumped and unresponsive, three U.S. officials said Monday, reporting observations by fighter pilots watching the unpredictable flight had intercepted.

The revelations came as federal investigators trudged through rough terrain to reach the site where the plane crashed into a mountain on Sunday, killing four people. The officials, who said the fighter pilots saw the collapsed civilian pilot, were briefed on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss details of the military operation.

The plane’s owner told news outlets that his daughter and two-year-old granddaughter were on board.

In this undated photo by Lakhinder Vohra, Adina Azarian poses for a photo in East Hampton, NY. Azarian was one of four people killed in a plane crash in a remote part of Virginia on Sunday June 4, 2023. The pilot of the business jet she was a passenger on, flying over Washington, appeared slumped and unresponsive, three US officials said Monday, reporting sightings of fighter pilots intercepting the erratic flight. (Lakhinder Vohra via AP)

The New York-bound plane inexplicably took an erratic trajectory — turning over Long Island and flying straight over the nation’s capital — prompting the military to ground down fighter jets. This caused a sonic boom that was heard in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia.

The remote terrain around the crash site posed major challenges for the investigation. It took investigators several hours to hike to the rural area near the community of Montebello, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of Charlottesville, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss. They assume that they will be on site for at least three to four days.

At a Monday morning briefing, NTSB investigator Adam Gerhardt said the wreckage was “heavily fragmented” and that investigators would examine the most sensitive evidence at the site. The wreckage may then be helicoptered to Delaware where it could be further examined. The plane doesn’t have to have a flight recorder, but it’s possible that other avionics devices have data that they could evaluate, Gerhardt said.

The Virginia State Police issued a statement saying that due to the severity of the accident, human remains are being transported to the state coroner’s office for autopsy and identification. The Federal Aviation Administration said casualties included the pilot and three passengers, but did not release their names. There were no survivors.

Investigators will investigate when the pilot stopped responding and why the planes flew that way, Gerhardt said. They would consider several factors that are routinely examined with such probes, including the aircraft, its engines, weather conditions, pilot qualifications and maintenance records, he said. A preliminary report will be published in 10 days.

According to a flight plan released late Monday by NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris, the plane departed from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee at 1:13 p.m. Sunday bound for MacArthur Airport in Long Island, New York. Air traffic control lost communications with the aircraft during the climb.

According to preliminary information, the last attempted ATC communication with the aircraft occurred at approximately 1:28 p.m. when the aircraft was at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,449 meters). The aircraft climbed to 34,000 feet (10,363 kilometers), where it remained for the remainder of the flight until it began to descend at 15:23 and crashed about nine minutes later. The plane was flying at an altitude of 34,000 feet (10,363 kilometers) when it passed MacArthur Airport at 2:33 p.m., the NTSB said.

The White House on Monday expressed its “deepest condolences” to the families of the passengers aboard the plane.

“We have to keep them front and center,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council.

Kirby deferred questions to the Pentagon and US Secret Service about a follow-up report on Washington airspace security. But he said, “What I saw was just a classic textbook answer.”

The White House was kept alert as the military jets attempted to contact the civilian plane’s pilot and monitor the light aircraft’s path from Washington airspace to rural Virginia, Kirby said.

Recordings on LiveATC.net show that air traffic control audio recordings from the half hour before the plane crashed capture voices identifying themselves as military pilots trying to communicate with the pilot of the private plane.

“If you hear this transmission, contact us,” said an Air National Guard pilot.

A few minutes later, a military pilot says, “You were intercepted. Contact me.”

The plane flew directly over the country’s capital. According to the Pentagon, six F-16 fighter jets were immediately deployed to intercept the plane. Two aircraft from the 113th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland were the first to reach the Cessna Citation and attempted to make contact with the pilot. Two F-16 aircraft from New Jersey and two from South Carolina also responded.

Flight tracking locations showed the aircraft suffered a rapid spiral descent and crashed at one point at a speed of more than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) per minute before crashing in the St. Mary’s Wilderness.

In Fairfax, Virginia, Travis Thornton was sitting on a couch next to his wife Hannah and had just started recording himself playing the guitar and harmonica when they were startled by a loud rumble and rattle heard on the video. The couple jumped up to see. Thornton tweeted that they checked in upstairs with their kids and then he went outside to check the house and speak to the neighbors.

The plane that crashed was registered with Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc, based in Florida. John Rumpel, a pilot who runs the company, said his family is returning to their home in East Hampton, Long Island, after visiting his home in North Carolina.

Rumpel told the New York Times he didn’t have much information from authorities, but hinted that the plane may have lost pressure.

“It was descending at a speed of 20,000 feet per minute and nobody could survive a fall at that speed,” Rumpel told the newspaper.

In interviews with the Times and Newsday, Rumpel identified his daughter Adina Azarian and his two-year-old granddaughter Aria as two of the victims.

Azarian, 49, was well known in real estate circles in both New York City and Long Island and was described by friends and family as a hard-fought entrepreneur who started her own brokerage business and raised her daughter as a single parent.

“Being a mom was everything to her,” said Tara Brivic-Looper, a close friend who grew up with Azarian on the Upper East Side. “The fact that they were together (in the end) fits.”

Friends say Azarian moved to East Hampton full-time to raise Aria with the help of a nanny. But she made frequent trips home, bringing both Aria and the nanny to meet her close-knit extended family on several occasions in recent months.

“She seemed so happy out there,” her cousin Andrew Azarian recalled. “Both of their lives hadn’t even begun yet.”

“How could that happen?” he continued. “Nobody can explain it.”


Brumfield reported from Silver Spring, Maryland. Associated Press reporter Jake Offenhartz and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York and White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: LauraCoffey@worldtimetodays.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button