A Cessna passenger aircraft sparked panic as it flew into restricted U.S. airspace over Washington, D.C. Sunday—before crashing into the Virginia wilderness, according to a report.
The aircraft forced the U.S. military to scramble F-16 jets to intervene, causing a sonic boom, heard across the D.C. area, officials said.
Pilot 'Lost Consciousness' During Flight
The Sunday flight began when the aircraft, a Cessna Citation, took off on a flight from Tennessee to Long Island, New York, the FAA said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The flight failed to attract attention until it entered into restricted airspace near the U.S. Capitol, prompting a rapid response from the Pentagon. At least one F-16 was scrambled and quickly went supersonic, causing the boom that shocked residents across the region.
"The civilian aircraft was intercepted at approximately 3:20 p.m.," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said shortly after the incident.
One of the Pentagon pilots saw the operator of the Cessna had "passed out," said a U.S. official, later confirmed by both the U.S. Capitol Police and NORAD. Shortly after being intercepted, the plane crashed in the Virginia wilderness.
2022 Baltic Sea Plane Crash
It remains unclear what caused the pilot's unconsciousness. However, there is speculation on social media that the occupants of the aircraft may have lost consciousness due to loss of cabin pressure with many drawing parallels to the 2022 Baltic Sea plane crash.
As previously reported, On 4 September 2022, another chartered Cessna Citation 551 business jet registered in Austria was scheduled to fly from Jerez, Spain to Cologne, Germany. Early in the flight, after takeoff, the aircraft's pilot notified air traffic control about a cabin pressure malfunction. After the aircraft passed the Iberian Peninsula, no further contact could be established.
The aircraft, which climbed to its assigned altitude at 36,000 feet, slightly turned near Paris and Cologne, where it failed to make a landing, and after the pilot lost consciousness, continued straight on its northeastern course. The aircraft continued flying over Germany and then out for almost two hours and 700 miles over the Baltic Sea near Denmark and Sweden before exhausting its fuel and crashing into the water.
There were four passengers on board the aircraft. Karl-Peter Griesemann (who has been confirmed as the pilot of the aircraft), his wife Juliane, their daughter Lisa (who also carried a pilot's licence), and her boyfriend Paul. None of the them survived.
Payne Stewart's 1999 Plane Crash
Some have even likened the incident to the October 1999 plane crash that killed professional golfer Payne Stewart. Stewart and four other occupants were in a Learjet that streaked uncontrolled for thousands of miles, apparently unconscious or already dead, before it plunged nose first and crashed in a field in north-central South Dakota.
The cause of the uncontrolled flight and crash after the Learjet 35 apparently ran out of fuel were not known, but aviation experts speculated that the aircraft may have lost pressurization and that emergency backup systems failed as the plane's autopilot kept it in the air. Loss of pressurization above 30,000 feet would cause occupants of the aircraft to lose consciousness from oxygen deficiency in one to two minutes, the experts said.
Jet Owner's 'Entire Family' was on the Aircraft
According to federal aviation records, the plane was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company owned by John and Barbara Rumpel, though neither were on board at the time of the crash. Virginia State Police have not been able to locate any survivors at the crash site.
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."