Authorities are trying to figure out why a MacArthur Airport-bound plane made it here from Tennessee on Sunday but then turned around over Long Island and headed back south. Four people died, including an East Hampton toddler and her mom, after their plane crashed in Virginia. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Anthony Florio; John Roca; AP; Photo Credit: Keller Williams

A popular real estate agent from East Hampton and her toddler were among four people killed Sunday when a Cessna Citation jet, bound for MacArthur Airport, lost communication with air traffic control during its initial ascent and crashed hours later in a remote, mountainous area of rural Virginia, according to federal authorities and family members of the victims.

John Rumpel, the plane's owner, told Newsday in an interview that his adopted daughter, Adina Azarian, and granddaughter, Aria Azarian, died in the crash as they were returning home to Long Island after visiting relatives in North Carolina. Also killed, he said, were the family's live-in nanny, who was not identified, and the jet's pilot, Jeff Hefner.

"I don't have anyone else," a tearful Rumpel said. "Just my wife. I don't have any more children or family."

Adina Azarian, 49, was a luxury real estate agent from East Hampton who has worked for Keller Williams Realty, headquartered in Manhasset, since 2011. Her daughter was 2½.


  • The owner of the plane that went down in the Virginia mountains Sunday after its pilot went unresponsive said his East Hampton daughter and granddaughter, as well as the live-in nanny and the pilot were killed in the crash. 
  • The National Transportation Safety Board has started its investigation of the crash, which drew national attention after the plane flew through restricted air space in Washington D.C.
  • The pilot lost communication with the air traffic control tower during the plane's ascent from Tennessee, going to Long Island MacArthur airport.

The Cessna 560 caused a panic over the nation's capital Sunday after the unresponsive pilot flew over restricted airspace, prompting the military to scramble fighter jets, causing a sonic boom that was heard across the region, officials said. The fighter jets reported seeing the pilot slumped over the controls, according to The Associated Press.

Plane wreckage in remote site

Authorities in Augusta County, Virginia located the wreckage about 8 p.m. Sunday — more than four hours after the plane suddenly fell from the sky — in an area reachable only by foot, said Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police.

"It's in a very remote, heavily wooded, mountainous region," Geller said, adding that there were no survivors.

An initial incident report by the Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft was destroyed after it crashed "under unknown circumstances" with four people on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Virginia Monday. The NTSB expects to remain at the scene for three to four days before sending the "highly fragmented" wreckage to a secure facility in Delaware, said lead investigator Adam Gerhardt.

"Basically everything is on the table until we slowly and methodically remove different components and elements that will be relevant for the safety investigation," Gerhardt said at a news conference. "The airplane, the engines, the weather conditions, pilot qualifications, the maintenance records. All aspects will be … completely looked at."

FAA records show Hefner was a licensed airline transport pilot with commercial piloting privileges to fly single engine land and sea planes.

Hefner, who was married with three children, spent 25 years as a Southwest Airlines captain and had more than 25,000 flight hours, said Dan Newlin, a Florida personal injury attorney who previously employed him as a pilot.

“Jeff was a highly accomplished and skilled aviator,” Hefner said. “… After retiring from Southwest Airlines, Jeff went on to be certified as a captain in numerous private aircraft."

The plane is not required to have a flight recorder but it's possible there are is avionics equipment that will have data they can examine, Gerhardt said. A preliminary report will be released in 10 days and a final report will be released in 12 to 24 months, he said.

Evidence collection and body recovery are still ongoing, Geller said, due to the "remote nature and severity of the crash site." Official identification of the victims will not be released, Geller said, until they're confirmed by a medical examiner.

The plane was manufactured in 1990 and registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc. in Melbourne, Florida. John Rumpel's wife, Barbara Rumpel, is listed as the president of Encore Motors.

A second family tragedy

This is not the first time tragedy has touched the Rumpel family.

In 1994, Victoria Rumpel, 19, of Centereach, the daughter of John Rumpel and his first wife, Deborah Amore, died in a scuba diving accident off Port Jefferson, according to Newsday records. Victoria Rumpel's body was found in Long Island Sound a week after she went missing. John Rumpel said he paid tribute to her in naming their 11-story assisted living facility in Florida, Victoria Landing, the website says.

The Rumpels, who live in North Carolina, are well known political figures who have donated extensively to former President Donald Trump. Barbara Rumpel, who is originally from Long Island, is a leading figure within the National Rifle Association, serving on the Women’s Leadership Council and executive committee.

The Cessna took off from Elizabethton, Tennessee at 1:13 p.m. for Islip's MacArthur Airport. Air traffic control lost communication with the plane at 1:28 during its ascent, according to NTSB investigators. At the time, the plane was at 31,000 feet and would eventually climb to 34,000 feet, where it remained until its descent, the agency said.

The plane inexplicably flew over MacArthur at 2:33 p.m. before turning around and heading back in the direction that it came from, according to the NTSB and, a tracking site.

The aircraft flew straight over Washington, D.C. in some of the most restricted air space in the country, prompting the Pentagon to deploy F-16 fighter jets to intercept the plane at supersonic speeds, causing a sonic boom heard throughout the region, federal officials said.

Flight tracking sites showed the plane suffered a spiraling descent around 3:30 p.m., dropping at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute.

Hypoxia dangers

Michael Canders, director of the aviation center at Farmingdale State College, said the incident is reminiscent of the 1999 crash of a Learjet that lost cabin pressure and flew aimlessly across the country with professional golfer Payne Stewart and five others aboard until it crashed.

In one possible scenario, Canders speculated, hypoxia may be to blame for the pilot losing consciousness, and possibly putting the aircraft on autopilot just before passing out. The plane could have flown on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

"You can program into the system where you want the aircraft to go," Canders said. " … The waypoint or the direction that the aircraft was going was to Long Island and then maybe it defaulted back to where the aircraft originated from … Perhaps the aircraft turned around completely on autopilot. None of the crew might have been awake for that part of the flight."

With Cecilia Dowd and Nicholas Spangler

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