4 dead in crash that led to sonic boom from F-16 fighter jets

DC residents startled as military jets race towards private aircraft, creating a sonic boom due to airspace violation; explosive sound heard by hundreds.

A large sonic boom startled the Washington, DC area after a fighter jet took off from Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland.
Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, an unresponsive private plane crossed into restricted airspace over Washington DC, resulting in a sonic boom that reverberated across the area.

The military quickly responded by dispatching two F-16 fighter jets from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Despite attempts to establish radio contact, the private aircraft remained unresponsive. Tragically, the plane eventually crashed in southwest Virginia, claiming the lives of all four individuals onboard.

The unexpected boom left residents in the capital and surrounding communities bewildered until further details emerged about the incident.

The fighter jets saw that the pilot of the plane had passed out, a US official told ABC News.

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.

According to the police, rescuers made their way on foot to the remote location in Shenandoah Valley where the plane had crashed several hours earlier.

Unfortunately, no survivors were found at the scene. The aircraft had taken off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, with its intended destination being Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, as reported by the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, the plane deviated from its course after reaching the New York area, executing an almost complete 180-degree turn and heading towards Virginia, as indicated by the flight-tracking website Flight Aware.

Barbara Rumpel, a businesswoman, and member of the NRA Women’s Leadership Form posted to Facebook Sunday, confirming that her daughter and granddaughter died in the crash.
Barbara Weimer Rumpel/ Facebook
Barbara Rumpel (L) and her daughter and granddaughter.
Barbara Weimer Rumpel/ Facebook

The reasons behind the plane’s lack of response and subsequent crash remain unclear. The aircraft descended at an alarming speed, with reports indicating a rate of over 30,000 feet per minute before the tragic impact.

According to a source familiar with the matter, it appeared that the Cessna was operating on autopilot. The North American Aerospace Defense Command stated in a later announcement, as reported by the New York Times, that the two F-16s were authorized to fly at supersonic speeds, resulting in the sonic boom that resonated throughout the area.

Rumpel’s granddaughter was tragically killed in the crash.
Barbara Weimer Rumpel/ Facebook

The individual who owns the company responsible for registering the plane informed the Times on Sunday that his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, their nanny, and the pilot were aboard the ill-fated aircraft while en route to their residence in East Hampton.

John Rumpel, representing Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc, mentioned that they were returning to New York after visiting him in North Carolina. Although he lacked detailed information, Rumpel speculated that the plane might have experienced a loss of pressurization.

Search and rescue teams leave the command post at St. Mary’s Wilderness en route to the Blue Ridge Parkway to search for the site where a Cessna Citation crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Va., on June 4, 2023.
The jet was taking off to the scene of a crash in Virginia.

The 75-year-old, who is a pilot himself, said he hoped his family didn’t suffer in the wreckage as his voice broke.

He added that if the plane lost pressurization, “they all just would have gone to sleep and never woke up,” according to the publication. 

Rumpel’s wife Barbara Weimer Rumpel posted photos of their daughter and granddaughter on Facebook.

The sign for Joint Base Andrews is seen on March 26, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

“My family is gone, my daughter and granddaughter,” she wrote. 

Barbara Rumpel has gained recognition for her advocacy efforts in support of gun rights. Her involvement in this cause includes being a member of the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Council since 2002 and serving as an executive committee member of the council since 2012, as indicated on her LinkedIn profile.

In addition to their activism, the Rumpel couple actively engages in politics and has made significant financial contributions to various Republican candidates running for federal office in recent years. Online records reveal that they donated $250,000 to the Trump Victory PAC in 2020 alone.

The powerful sonic boom, which occurs when an object surpasses the speed of sound at 767 mph, reverberated across the capital, as well as cities in Maryland and northern Virginia. Many residents, startled by the explosion-like sound that shook their homes, took to Twitter to express their concerns and seek answers about the unexpected event.

“It was loud enough to shake my f—king coffee table” local Matt Cox tweeted following the boom. “Thank God there isn’t an infant in the house.”

Washington’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency said earlier in the day the boom was heard across the National Capital Region, but that “there is no threat at this time.”

Authorities have explicitly stated that the Cessna was not brought down by any military aircraft.

The crash is currently being investigated by both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

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