As investigators continue to investigate a private plane that flew through restricted airspace over Washington, D.C. and mysteriously crashed into the mountains of Virginia, new details emerged about the four victims who died in the plane.
Adina Azarian, 49, was a well-known luxury real estate broker in New York. Her adoptive father, John Rumpel, said she and her two-year-old daughter, Aria, died in an accident.
“I couldn’t love a human more than I loved her and her grandson,” Rumpel told The Associated Press.
Rumpel and his wife, Barbara, met and adopted Azarian, who grew up with her mother in Connecticut and New Hampshire, when she was 40.
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The couple said Azarian reminded them of their daughter Victoria, who died in a scuba diving accident in 1994 at the age of 19. The couple named their assisted living home in Melbourne “Victoria’s Landing” after their late daughter.
Seven years after adoption, Azarian conceived Aria through IVF.
Azarian’s nanny, 56-year-old Eberdney Smith, also died in the accident. Smith, known to her family as “Nanny V,” lived in Azarian’s East Hampton home and traveled frequently with her mother and daughter. Smith leaves her only son in Jamaica.
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Rumpel, a pilot who owns several planes himself, identified the pilot as Jeff Hefner, a “class” aviator with decades of experience.
“Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to take my daughter and grandchildren on the plane,” Rumpel told the Associated Press.
Hefner began his more than 40-year career in the aviation industry as a pesticide applicator before joining Southwest Airlines. He retired and started flying his private plane.
Hefner is survived by a wife and three children, said Dan Newlin, an attorney who heads the Florida law firm where Hefner served as captain.
The Cessna Citation plane lost contact with air traffic control shortly after takeoff in Tennessee, flew to its destination on Long Island, then inexplicably turned around and flew directly over the capital city, where U.S. forces were fighting. A sonic boom was generated while the aircraft scrambled to intercept. Airplane in the air.
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Officials said F-16 pilots reported seeing the pilot collapse over the controls in the cockpit and neither the aircraft nor the passengers responded to their call.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but experts theorize that the plane may have lost pressurization in the cabin and the occupants fainted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.