Pentagon Jets Chased Passed-Out Cessna Pilot Over D.C. Before Crash

Reuters/Jason Reed
Reuters/Jason Reed

A Cessna aircraft with an unresponsive pilot and passengers on board prompted an aerial chase with Pentagon jets Sunday when it crossed into protected U.S. airspace over Washington, D.C.—causing a sonic boom heard across the Washington D.C. area, officials said.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Authority told The Daily Beast the aircraft, a Cessna Citation, took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York.

The plane concerned authorities when it flew over restricted D.C. airspace. Pentagon F-16s scrambled and went supersonic to catch up with the runaway plane. According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD): “The civilian aircraft was intercepted at approximately 3:20 p.m.”

The U.S. Capitol Complex was briefly placed on an elevated alert until the airplane left the area, police said.

The chase sparked panic in the area when residents as far as Maryland and Virginia heard the jets breaking supersonic speed.

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

The boom caused the DC Homeland Security & Emergency Management to confirm reports of a loud “boom” and to assure residents that “there is no threat at this time.”

At least one of the jet pilots saw the Cessna’s pilot “passed out,” a U.S. official told ABC News. In a statement Sunday night, U.S. Capitol Police said officials were working with federal partners to “monitor an unresponsive pilot who was flying an airplane near the National Capital Region.”

NORAD confirmed that “the pilot was unresponsive and the Cessna subsequently crashed” into mountainous terrain near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia, around 3:30 p.m. local time on Sunday.

NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the aircraft crashed, a statement said. That included the use of flares “in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot,” the release added.

First responders reached the crash site by foot shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday, the Virginia State Police said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

“State police has suspended its search efforts. No survivors were located,” it added.

The area, according to the FAA, is “sparsely populated.”

Public aviation records show the plane is registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company owned by John and Barbara Rumpel.

In a brief interview with The Washington Post, John Rumpel confirmed he was the owner of Encore and said his “entire family” was on the plane at the time, including his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny.

“We know nothing about the crash,” he said. “We are talking to the FAA now. … I’ve got to keep the line clear.”

When reached by The Daily Beast, Barbara Rumpel, who is listed as the president of Encore Motors in Melbourne, declined to comment.

The FAA and NTSB are investigating the crash.

Meanwhile the incident “had no impact on Secret Service,” or President Joe Biden, spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi told CNN in a statement.

The President–who was playing golf at the Andrews Air Force Base golf course in Maryland at the time of the crash–has been briefed on the situation, a White House official said, adding that the sound of the boom was “faint.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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