By David Shepardson WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Authorities do not yet know when the pilot of a light plane that crashed Sunday became unresponsive or why the plane was on a flight path taking it over heavily restricted airspace near Washington, D.C., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Monday. The Pentagon scrambled F-16 fighter […]
Unclear when pilot became unresponsive before crash that sparked Washington DC security scare
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Authorities do not yet know when the pilot of a light plane that crashed Sunday became unresponsive or why the plane was on a flight path taking it over heavily restricted airspace near Washington, D.C., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Monday.
The Pentagon scrambled F-16 fighter jets, which created a sonic boom over the U.S. capital as they pursued the Cessna Citation 560 that crashed in southwest Virginia.
“That will absolutely be part of this investigation of looking at when exactly did the pilot become unresponsive and why did the airplane fly the flight track that it did fly? We don’t know the information yet,” NTSB investigator Adam Gerhardt told reporters near the crash site.
He said the wreckage is highly fragmented and in heavily wooded, rural mountainous terrain and will be “a very challenging accident site.” The NTSB will remove wreckage and move it to a secure location in Delaware and the agency may use a helicopter to move wreckage.
“Basically everything is on the table,” Gerhardt said of the investigation. “The airplane, the engines, the weather conditions, pilot qualifications, the maintenance records — all aspects will be of course items we routinely look at.”
A U.S. official said the fighters did not cause the crash.
The plane was carrying four including the pilot, a source told Reuters Sunday when it crashed near the George Washington National Forest. No survivors were found, Virginia State Police said.
The Cessna was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida, according to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware.
Encore owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny were on board.
“We know nothing about the crash,” the Post quoted Rumpel as saying. “We are talking to the FAA now,” he added before ending the call.
The U.S. military attempted to contact the pilot, who was unresponsive, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement. They also used flares in an attempt to get the pilot’s attention.
The Cessna appeared to be flying on autopilot, another source familiar the matter said.
The Cessna took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan, the FAA said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)