Four dead in Augusta County plane crash on Mine Bank Mountain; investigators comb wreckage

VESUVIUS — A day after a deadly Augusta County plane crash, authorities continued to comb the site Monday in the Saint Mary's Wilderness area.

Virginia State Police said four people died in the Sunday crash.

A National Transportation Safety Board official said recovery efforts will last three to four days.

Forest Service worker David Whitmore (center) consults a map with Augusta county emergency management worker Patrick Lam (right) along with Aaron Bennington (left)  and Brent Foltz rear) on June 5, 2023.  Members of the U.S. Forest Service and Augusta County emergency management work Monday afternoon near an old trail that leads to a crash site.   An unresponsive pilot collided into mountainous terrain near the George Washington National Forest Sunday. F-16 fighter jets tried to alert the pilot with flares and traveled at supersonic speeds.

On Sunday, a twin-engine Cessna Citation flew a roundabout path from Tennessee to New York to the Washington, D.C. area before heading to Augusta County, where it crashed at an elevation of just over 2,700 feet on the north side of Mine Bank Mountain.

The plane's presence in D.C. prompted the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to scramble F-16 fighter aircraft to the unresponsive Cessna. The fighter jets were authorized to fly at supersonic speeds, and capital residents reported hearing a sonic boom Sunday.

NORAD also deployed flares in an effort to get the pilot's attention. NORAD said the Cessna was apprehended at 3:20 p.m. on Sunday but the pilot was unresponsive. The plane crashed in the George Washington National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith addresses the media Monday near the crash site.
Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith addresses the media Monday near the crash site.

Authorities said search and rescue personnel hiked about three hours to reach the wreckage Sunday night.

According to USA Today, the Cessna is registered to Encore Motors in Melbourne, Florida. Owner Barbara Rumpel and John Rumpel both made statements that their daughter and a grandchild were on the plane.

Logan Barry, 30, of Wintergreen, said he was hiking along the Blue Ridge on Sunday when he heard a loud bang.

"And then I saw what looked like military jets flying real close to the mountainside. Followed by those were helicopters," he said.

On Monday, Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith addressed the media and said the terrain is "extremely rough, it's extremely steep." The sheriff said it took search crews about 3 1/2 hours to reach the wreckage site, which is located about 1 1/2 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. "It's very far in the mountain," he said.

Smith said about 10 deputies, several drones, Augusta County Fire-Rescue, and Virginia State Police helicopters were used in the search. He said Augusta County Fire-Rescue personnel were the first to reach the wreckage.

Searchers are using pink ribbons to mark the path to the Cessna.
Searchers are using pink ribbons to mark the path to the Cessna.

Although Augusta County authorities have dealt with deadly plane crashes in the past, Smith said the terrain made Sunday's search difficult. The thick brush also made ATVs and UTVs useless.

"We're pretty much hoofin' it," Smith said.

Virginia State Police also returned to the crash site Monday and confirmed the pilot and three passengers were killed.

Earlier on Monday, Investigator-in-Charge Adam Gerhardt of the NTSB said the plane was a twin-engine Cessna 550 that departed from Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was headed to Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York. Gerhardt said the plane became unresponsive en route to New York.

State police said the remains of the victims will be collected and taken to the Office of the Virginia Medical Examiner for examination, autopsy and positive identification. Their names will be released once next-of-kin are notified.

"The airplane was subsequently intercepted by fighter jets based in the Andrews Air Force Base area," he said. "The airplane then subsequently crashed two to three miles north of Montebello, Virginia, in heavily wooded and rural terrain."

He said the wreckage is highly fragmented, and said he expects NTSB investigators to be at the site for three to four days.

"This will be a very challenging accident site," Gerhardt said. "The wreckage will be recovered to a secure facility in Delaware, where it will be perhaps helicoptered from the rural terrain that we have to access."

Gerhardt said investigators will try to determine when the pilot became unresponsive and why the airplane took the path that it did. The plane was not required to have a black box and Gerhardt said it's not clear if it had one installed, but he said onboard avionics might provide some clues as to what occurred.

A preliminary report from the NTSB will be available within 10 days, according to Gerhardt, and a final report will take one to two years.

Brad Zinn is the cops, courts and breaking news reporter at The News Leader. Have a news tip? Or something that needs investigating? You can email reporter Brad Zinn (he/him) at You can also follow him on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Four dead in Augusta County plane crash on Mine Bank Mountain