Fatal Virginia ‘ghost plane’ crash echoes death of PGA golfer Payne Stewart

The pilot of the private jet that crashed fatally in Virginia appeared to have passed out while the aircraft, known as a “ghost plane,” continued to fly eerily, leaving the Cessna behind.

The tragedy was chillingly reminiscent of the crash involving a Learjet 35A on October 25, 1999, in which PGA golfer Stewart Payne flew aimlessly across the US and lost cabin pressure aboard.

Stewart, three additional passengers, and the two pilots lost their lives when the aircraft tragically crashed in a pasture in South Dakota.

It remains unclear what caused the crash on Sunday, in which a twin-engine Cessna Citation V was involved, as it was heading to MacArthur Airport on Long Island and attempted to make a U-turn.

Eventually, the jet turned towards Virginia and crashed in a rural area, killing everyone aboard, including her young daughter and a Realtor from the Hamptons.

The misguided airplane seemingly went into a steep descent, ultimately plummeting at a speed exceeding 30,000 feet per minute before it collided with the St. Mary’s Wilderness. Numerous F-16 fighter jets were hastily deployed close to Washington, DC, to intercept.

The jets created sonic booms when they broke the sound barrier in their race to get to the plane, startling local residents.

“According to a statement from the North American Aerospace Defense Command, flares were also deployed by NORAD aircraft during this incident, possibly observable to the general public, in an effort to divert the pilot’s attention.”

Authorities near the scene of the plane crash near Montebello, Virginia on June 4, 2023.
Authorities near the scene of the plane crash near Montebello, Virginia on June 4, 2023.
Randall K. Wolf via AP
The Cessna became a "ghost plane" after the pilot appeared to have passed out while flying.
The Cessna became a “ghost plane” after the pilot appeared to have passed out while flying.
Randall K. Wolf via AP

The aviator, the youngster’s caretaker, her toddler daughter, and Adina Azarian, 49, a property agent in East Hampton, were allegedly deceased in the accident.

Records indicate that Azarian’s parents are politically engaged, having contributed $250,000 to the Trump Victory PAC in 2020.

ABC News informed a US official that the “phantom aircraft” was formed while the airplane carried on flying, with the pilot of the ill-fated airplane, which belonged to Azarian’s father, seeming to be unconscious, as observed by the fighter jets.

The aircraft appeared to be flying on automatic pilot before it collided, a source familiar with the event added to Reuters.

Adina Azarian, her 2-year-old daughter, the child
Adina Azarian, her 2-year-old daughter, the child’s nanny and the plane’s pilot all died in the crash.
Azarian’s parents are businessman John and NRA executive Barbara Rumpel.
Barbara Weimer Rumpel/ Facebook

Aviation specialists have speculated that a lack of oxygen may have caused the pilot and passengers to become unable to act.

Hypoxia “occurs when there is insufficient oxygen in the aircraft,” aviation expert Steve Ganyard informed ABC News.

According to him, “the force should maintain sufficient air in the cabin to remain vigilant and stay conscious. In this situation, it may occur subtly where you lose awareness, you start to experience tingling sensations, you feel a sense of bliss, and it gradually affects the individuals in the cabin.”

The unfortunate event evoked recollections of Stewart’s accident as the golf champion was on his way from Orlando, Florida, to Dallas, Texas.

The tragedy has similarities to the plane crash that killed PGA golfer Payne Stewart in 1999.
The tragedy has similarities to the plane crash that killed PGA golfer Payne Stewart in 1999.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The crew of the aircraft, Stewart, received clearance to climb to an altitude of 39,000 feet after air traffic control responded to the intercept of the so-called “ghost plane” by deployed fighter jets.

The fighter pilots reported that the jet appeared to be undamaged and was flying normally, despite the fact that the cockpit windows were opaque with ice or condensation, and there was silence on the radio.

After four hours, the aircraft depleted its fuel and descended rapidly towards the ground at supersonic velocity before ultimately crashing.

Wreckage from Stewart
Wreckage from Stewart’s plane crash in South Dakota after the aircraft became a “ghost plane” in 1999.

Following a decrease in cabin pressure, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the likely reason for the incident was the flight crew’s incapacitation due to their neglect in utilizing additional oxygen.

The NTSB stated that pilots’ ability to think decisively and receive emergency oxygen could have been impaired due to hypoxia, which is a possible explanation for the failure of their oxygen masks.

The Board of Safety evaluated both gradual and rapid depressurization conditions, therefore, there is no definitive evidence that indicates the rate at which the cabin pressure was lost during the flight accident.

Stewart’s Learjet 35A getting removed from the crash site.

Hertzak Peter, a cosmetic surgeon, and pilot, became unresponsive while circling over the Gulf of Mexico in April 2012. His twin-engine propeller plane, a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, fell into the ocean. This incident is one of the notable examples of “ghost plane” fatalities.

The plane took off from Slidell, La., With a single pilot on board and reached an altitude of about 28,000 feet before beginning its erratic flight to Sarasota, Fla.

Two F-15 combat aircraft dispatched to intercept the aircraft reported that its windows were either frozen or obscured by fog.

According to aviation specialist Miles O’Brien, he informed CNN that at an altitude of 28,000 feet, one does not possess much functional awareness without the presence of oxygen or being inside a pressurized airplane.

He stated that there are not many choices for reviving him and getting him back in the air if a pilot becomes unable to function at that elevation.

On August 14, 2005, during a flight from Prague, Czech Republic, to Athens, Greece, flight 522 of Helios Airways crashed near Grammatiko, resulting in the death of all 121 crew members and passengers onboard.

The ground personnel failed to switch the pressurization system to automatic, leading to hypoxia among all passengers on the Boeing 737. Consequently, the pilots lost communication with air-traffic controllers.

Investigators concluded that the flight crew disregarded cautionary signals regarding the inaccurate configuration.

The pilots aboard the two F-16s reported that everyone in the cabin was not wearing oxygen masks, but they saw that they were deployed.

In the cockpit, they noticed that the co-pilot was collapsed over the controls, and the captain’s chair was vacant.

Despite their inability to capture his attention, the fighter pilots remained conscious and eventually noticed flight attendant Andreas Prodromou seated in the captain’s chair, donning his headphones. It seemed that he was the sole individual on board.

Prior to depleting its fuel supply, Prodromou successfully utilized a portable oxygen device to gain access to the cockpit, where he endeavored to assume command of the aircraft. Notably, he possesses extensive experience as a scuba diver and holds a valid license as a private pilot.

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Helios Airways Flight 522, Athens… Mayday! Mayday!” He shouted on the radio before he spotted the F-16s close by.

In his final act, the hero crew member pointed downward before the plane plummeted to the ground, according to the aviation site.

Helios Airways ceased operations in November 2006.