What We Know So Far: Augusta County Plane Crash
HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Here’s what we know so far about the plane crash that happened near Montebello on Sunday, June 4. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report about the crash on June 21.
The report does not say what caused the crash, but explains in more detail the timeline of the plane’s movements and what investigators know about the plane, the flight, and the crash.
The Cessna Citation 560 departed from its home airport of Melbourne International Airport (MLB) in Melbourne, Florida at 10:59 a.m. After a successful flight, the plane landed at Elizabethton Municipal Airport (0A9) in Elizabethton, Tennessee at 12:31 p.m.
After landing in Tennessee, the plane fueled up for its final ride in the sky. The accident flight departed from 0A9 destined to land at Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP), New York, New York at 1:13 p.m.
For the first 15 minutes of the flight, things seemed normal. The pilot responded to aircraft climbing clearances from aircraft controllers. At 1:22 p.m. the pilot responded to the controller’s clearance to climb up to flight level 290 (29,000ft). At 1:25 p.m. the controllers authorized the plane to climb to flight level 340, the pilot readback the clearance when the plane was at 28,000ft in the air. This was the last contact with the plane before it crashed near Montebello, Virginia.
At 1:28 p.m. the controllers amended the previous clearance and instructed the pilot to stop the climb at 33,000ft. The pilot failed to respond and the plane climbed to 34,000ft and leveled off. The plane arrived overhead of ISP at 2:32 p.m. maintaining 34,000ft throughout the flight. The airplane continued to fly southwest on a ground track of 240°.
The plane showed little deviation in flight path or altitude change until 3:22 p.m. where the airplane entered a rapidly descending right spiral towards the ground.
According to recent maintenance records, the airplane as of May 2023 was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) but the CVR has yet to be found. The airplane was also not equipped with a flight data recorder, nor was it required to.
The Federal Aviation Administration says a Cessna Citation crashed into the mountains near Montebello, around 3:30 p.m. on June 4. The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee and was heading for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York. The Associated Press reported F-16 Fighter Jets were scrambled when the plane flew over restricted airspace in Washington D-C.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement that the F-16 was authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, which caused a sonic boom that was heard in Washington and parts of Virginia and Maryland. ABC News is reporting that the intercept took place around 20 miles northeast of Reagan National Airport in Washington D-C. Officials told ABC News that the plane was unresponsive when they tried to make contact. A defense official provided a new timeline for the F-16′s intercept showing that the military aircraft followed the Cessna Citation civilian jet for a half hour and not 10 minutes. The whole time they followed the plane they reportedly attempted to make contact, the defense official said, but never heard anything back.
The plane was registered to the Florida-based company, Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc.
First responders arrived at the scene of the crash around 8 p.m. on June 4, and the FAA confirmed that four people on board, and there were no survivors.
John Rumpel, a pilot who runs the company, said the 4 people on the plane were the pilot, his daughter, his two-year-old granddaughter, and her nanny.
Rumpel identified the pilot as Jeff Heftner, a former Captain with Southwest Airlines with over 25,000 flight hours.
The Virginia State Police suspended their search around 10 p.m., and the NTSB said on Monday, June 5 that it will take days to collect debris.
According to the FAA, contact was lost with the plane 15 minutes after take-off. The F-16 pilots that pursued the aircraft described the pilot as “slumped over” in his seat.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a brief update that the pilot and three passengers were killed and that the plane was “destroyed” in the crash.
Adam Gerhardt, NTSB Investigator, said the crash is “highly fragmented” and they wreckage will be moved to Delaware where it can be thoroughly examined. A preliminary report is expected to be released in 10 days, and a final report will take between 12-24 months to be completed and released.
The Virginia State Police say that because of the severity of the crash, the remains collected at the scene will be transported to the Office of the Virginia Medical Examiner for examination, autopsy and positive identification. Once positive identification is made and next of kin is notified, the Virginia State Police will release the identities of the individuals recovered from the scene.
This is a developing story, and WHSV will share any new information on our website, social media pages, and newscasts once we learn more.
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