Va. – It’s a crash that has baffled the country.
Just after 3:30 Sunday, the Cessna Citation crashed into a mountainous area near the Augusta/Nelson County line - killing all four passengers according to state police.
Anthony Brickhouse is an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and directs their Aerospace Forensic Lab. He says there is a lot to consider when investigating the crash.
“It’s easy when you’re looking at accident investigations to see clues and to think everything adds up, but as investigators we’re trained to not have what we call tunnel vision and to keep literally all options on the table,” Brickhouse said.
The plane was heading from Elizabethton, Tennessee to Long Island, New York when it headed off course.
“It almost looks like it was trying to go back to the airport it took off from,” Brickhouse said.
The plane then flew over Washington D.C. – right into restricted airspace.
“And the airspace around Washington D.C. is probably some of the most restricted airspace in the world,” he said.
Brickhouse says this sent up red flags ... especially when the plane was unresponsive to air traffic control.
“When they see that aircraft coming in that direction and there’s no communication with that aircraft, that definitely catches everybody’s attention and that’s why they scrambled the F-16s,” he said.
Brickhouse says one theory for the crash is hypoxia - or lack of oxygen to the brain.
“It’s not something that just dramatically happens, and you lose consciousness, it’s something that happens over time,” he said.
According to the pilots of the fighter jets, the Cessna pilot was seen slumped over, unresponsive in the cockpit.
“Aircraft do have oxygen supplies for the pilots, but unless you recognize what’s happening and get that oxygen mask on, you’re eventually going to lose consciousness,” Brickhouse said.
While crashes due to hypoxia are rare, Brickhouse says it’s not unprecedented.
The NTSB says it’s still too early to say what the true cause is, but they are continuing to investigate.