‘My Family Is Gone’: No Survivors Aboard Plane That Triggered Supersonic F-16 Response
‘My Family Is Gone’: No Survivors Aboard Plane That Triggered Supersonic F-16 Response

By Melanie Sun

Search and rescue crews have found no survivors at the wreckage of the small plane that went silent, triggering a national security response in D.C.’s restricted airspace on Sunday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled F-16 fighter jets in an attempt to reach its pilot when authorities saw the plane flying erratically and without authorization around 3:20 p.m.

Barbara Rumpel, president of a Florida company with which the plane is registered, posted on social media: “My family is gone, my daughter and granddaughter.” She was responding to condolences from others responding to news of the plane crash.

The small Cessna 560 was registered to her and her husband John Rumpel’s company Encore Motors based in Melbourne, Florida.

The prominent business family confirmed that their adopted daughter and only granddaughter were aboard the doomed flight, which at one point registered a chilling descent of 20,000 feet a minute, John Rumpel said.

“Nobody could survive a crash from that speed,” he told The New York Times.

John Rumpel told The Washington Post that his 50-year-old daughter and her daughter were his “entire family.”

They were meant to be returning home to Long Island after a four-day visit to him and his wife in North Carolina. The pilot and the family’s live-in nanny were the other two people onboard.

Rumpel asked the media to give his family privacy at this time. He said he had no further comment, and was receiving updates from the FAA, police, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The Cessna crashed into the mountainside in the George Washington National Forest, southwestern Virginia, around 3:30 p.m.

Authorities secure the entrance to Mine Bank Trail, an access point to the rescue operation along the Blue Ridge Parkway where a Cessna Citation crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Va., on June 4, 2023. (Randall K. Wolf via AP)

First responders found the wreckage on foot found just before 8 p.m. after air response was ruled out due to poor weather conditions.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said in a statement on Sunday evening that “no survivors were located” at the crash site. Search and rescue efforts were ended.

NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris said that investigators will arrive on the scene Monday to document the scene and the aircraft, and examine radar data, weather information, and maintenance records.

A preliminary report is expected within three weeks, she added, while the full investigation could take from a year to two years to complete.

Sonic Boom

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy, fly over Europe on March 20, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christine Griffiths)

The FAA and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement on Sunday that they had authorized F-16 fighter jets to fly at supersonic speeds, which at speeds of 750 miles per hour at sea level, had caused a sonic boom and concern from residents, with many reports to 911 of a loud explosion.

The F-16 pilots also attempted to engage the Cessna pilot by firing flares but were unsuccessful.

Homeland Security posted to Twitter at the time, “We are aware of reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a loud ‘boom’ this afternoon. There is no threat at this time.”

President Joe Biden, who was playing golf with his brother at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, was alerted of the unresponsive plane.

A White House official said: “The President was briefed on the incident. The sound resulting from the authorized DOD aircraft was faint at JBA.”

Capitol Police said that the U.S. Capitol was briefly placed on heightened alert right after the sonic boom was felt.

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