The ‘ghost plane’ crash that killed four people – and set off a sonic boom from F-16 fighter jets flying towards DC to intercept it – left a ‘crater’ indicating a near-dive in the ground , spraying the plane.
The private Cessna flew into the restricted airspace over the capital on Sunday afternoon, with the pilot appearing to be unresponsive to controls, possibly rendered unconscious as the pressure dropped inexplicably. The plane then crashed near Raphine, Virginia, leaving a “crater” that almost suggested a nose-dive, said one of the four first responders on the site. CNN.
The gruesome crash site contained no more than four recognizable pieces of the plane, with a first responder noting: “There was nothing really bigger than your arm.”
The “highly fragmented” wreckage and the fact that the scene is extremely remote in a heavily forested mountainous area makes it “a very difficult accident site,” National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Adam Gerhardt told reporters Monday.
Rescuers were only able to reach the site – in the Shenandoah Valley near the Blue Ridge Parkway – on foot, and no survivors were found, just human remains, officials said.
The Cessna was not required to have a black box, but investigators will look in the hope that there is, Gerhardt said. He said a preliminary report on the accident could be released in about 10 days, although a final report is likely to take one to two years.
John Rumpel of Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc. confirmed his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter and a nanny were on board the doomed flight with their pilot.
The private plane had departed Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
It reached the New York area before making a nearly 180-degree turn and flying toward Virginia, according to flight tracking website Flight Aware.
After the plane entered a restricted area and with no response from the pilot, two F-16s were deployed and allowed to travel at supersonic speeds, causing the sonic boom that was heard in the capital and nearby communities in Maryland and Virginia.
After flying over DC, the ‘ghost plane’ continued its chaotic descent, at one point dropping to over 30,000 feet per minute before crashing.
The Cessna appeared to be flying on autopilot, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. It is not known why the plane did not respond or why it crashed.
Rumpel told the New York Times his family was returning to their East Hampton home on Sunday after visiting him in North Carolina.
He said he didn’t have much more information, but suggested the plane may have lost pressurization, meaning “They would have all just fallen asleep and never woken up.”
In addition to owning the Melbourne, Fla.-based company, Rumpel and his wife, Barbara, are notable political donors who have already donated $250,000 to the Trump Victory PAC in 2020.
Barbara is also known for her gun rights advocacy work and has been a member of the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Council since 2002 and a member of the council’s executive committee since 2012, according to her LinkedIn.
After the fatal accident, she wrote on Facebook: “My family is gone, my daughter and my granddaughter”.