After the Cessna veered into the restricted area, which includes important national landmarks, the Federal Aviation Administration called the pilot but got no response from that plane, and the military ordered the planes to intercept, a military official said.
Officials later determined the Cessna plane did not pose a threat, and the investigation will look into why the pilot did not respond to the FAA the Cessna was not brought down, officials said.
The Cessna crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, NORAD said, although an earlier FAA statement said it “crashed in mountainous terrain in a sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia,” near Montebello, about 15:30 local time. Virginia State Police said Sunday evening that efforts to search for the wreckage and its occupants were underway near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Staunton, Virginia.
The condition of the people on board is not yet known.
The plane, a private business jet, was owned by Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company. Reached by phone, John Rumpel, 75, who runs that company, said his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the flight. He said they were returning home to East Hampton, New York, after a four-day visit to his home in North Carolina.
Mr Rumpel, who is also a pilot, said he had little information about the circumstances of the crash but hoped they were not injured. His voice breaking, he said that if the plane lost pressure, “they would all just go to sleep and never wake up.”