On June 4 a Cessna Citation V crashed after it flew over restricted airspace in D.C. and fighter jets were scrambled to intercept it. The airline transport pilot and all three passengers were killed when the jet crashed into terrain near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. The NTSB released its preliminary report, noting that the plane continued past its destination flying southwest and over D.C. and witnesses reported that the pilot was unresponsive before the plane entered a rapidly descending right spiral descent into terrain.
The plane originally departed from its home airport, Melbourne International Airport (MLB) in Melbourne, Florida and landed at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport (0A9) in Elizabethton, Tennessee to refuel and pick up its three passengers. After refueling with 300 gallons of fuel and picking up the passengers, the accident plane departed for Long Island Mac Arthur Airport (ISP) in New York.
The pilot was in communication with ATC after takeoff and reported climbing through 9,300 ft mean sea level to 10,000 feet. The flight was cleared to flight level 230 (23,000 ft) and the pilot read back the clearance. The pilot was handed off to another controller who was then told the plane was maintaining flight level 230. The controller cleared the accident flight to flight level 290 and the pilot read back the clearance, then it was cleared to flight level 340 and the pilot read that clearance back as well. When the pilot read the clearance back the plane was still at about 28,000 ft.
The pilot was instructed to stop the climb at 33,000 ft for crossing air traffic but no response was given. The plane continued climbing to 34,000 ft and leveled off. Despite repeated attempts, no further radio transmissions were received from the pilot.
ADS-B data found that the flight track to the destination airport was consistent with the filed flight plan route. Once the plane arrived at its destination, it continued southwest and maintained 34,000 ft. The flight track had little deviation until the final descending right spiral and subsequent crash.
The NTSB went to the scene to investigate and the wreckage was consistent with a high velocity, near vertical descent. It was found to be highly fragmented and scattered around a main crater, with evidence of a post-impact fire. Fragments from the wings, fuselage, empennage and both engines were found in the debris field. The cockpit had been destroyed in the impact. The flight control continuity could not be determined due to the fragmentation of the wreckage. While the plane had been equipped with a cockpit voice recorder, that has not been located at this time. The wreckage was recovered and retained for further examination.
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and sea as well as airplane multi-engine land. He had type ratings for the accident plane, the Citation III, the Citation Sovereign, Boeing 737, British Aerospace Jetstream, Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante and North American B-25 Mitchell. He was issued a first-class medical certificate on Oct. 10, 2022. A month before the crash, he had reported on a pilot history insurance form that he had a total of 34,500 hours, 850 of which for the Citation V. He had reported 110 hours in a Citation V in the last 12 months.
When the plane flew over D.C. it was unknown whether the jet was friendly or not, leading to the scrambling of six F-16s from three different units and bases, causing a sonic boom to echo over the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region. NORAD stated that the aircraft was intercepted but the pilot appeared unresponsive before the crash.
After the crash, there were speculations that hypoxia was the cause. The AOPA released a video analysis of the crash, noting the dangers of hypoxia and the possible scenarios that might have led to the Virginia crash. Hypoxia occurs when there is not enough oxygen to feed the brain, eventually leading to a state of unconsciousness or possibly death. The danger of hypoxia is that many people, even experienced pilots, will be completely unaware of the symptoms until it is too late.
The intercepting pilots reported visually seeing the pilot slumped over, confirming he was likely unconscious or unresponsive at some point in the flight. It is unknown how the passengers were doing at that time and whether or not they were conscious. Since the plane reached its destination and turned around, seemingly toward its original location, it has been speculated that the pilot and passengers suffered the effects of hypoxia before reaching flight level 340 and autopilot took over before the plane likely ran out of fuel and crashed.
The NTSB report did not determine a cause for the crash and the final report will take one to two years to complete.