Fatal Cessna 560 Citation V Jet Crash near Staunton, Virginia
June 5, 2023
Three passengers and a pilot were killed on June 4, 2023 when the Cessna 560 Citation V executive jet they were traveling in crashed in the Staunton/BlueRidge Parkway region of Virginia, a rural part of the Shenandoah Valley. The Cessna aircraft originally departed from Elizabethton, Tennessee, flew to, and then past, its Long Island, New York destination, then performed a 180-degree turn and continued flying southwest for over 600 miles including traveling over Washington, D.C. before likely running out of fuel and crashing in Virginia.
The fixed-wing multi-engine Cessna 560 Citation, registry number N611VG was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Inc. in Melbourne, Florida. The aircraft was manufactured in 1990 and equipped with turbo-fan Pratt & Whitney engines.
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The Flight Path
Flight data shows that the Cessna flew past its destination of Islip, New York before making a course reversal an hour and fifteen minutes into the flight and began heading toward Washington, D.C. The fact that the aircraft turned around after reaching its original destination indicates that the plane was on autopilot and likely went into HDG (Heading) mode after reaching its destination because no approach had been selected for the autopilot to follow. As the Cessna continued flying southwest over Washington, D.C., it appears to have flown into or near the restricted airspace around D.C. News media reported that after multiple failed attempts were made to contact the pilot (who was unresponsive), two F-16 fighter jets were deployed from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Crew aboard the F-16s determined that the pilot and all passengers on the Cessna appeared to have passed out. The F-16s escorted the plane which was on autopilot before it finally ran out of fuel and crashed in Virginia.
Potential Cause and Preliminary Investigation
It is still early in the investigation into the cause of this tragedy which will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). According to a CNN report, NTSB investigators will arrive on Monday to begin “the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft.”
But from publicly available information regarding the flight, Kreindler attorneys can begin an analysis. Initial reports point to a possible depressurization of the cabin causing incapacitation of the pilot and passengers due to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen. The hypoxia theory is similar to the probable cause of the 1999 crash of a Learjet 35 that killed golfer Payne Stewart along with 5 other people. In its final report about the 1999 crash, the NTSB concluded that the loss of consciousness of the aircraft’s two pilots caused by a loss in cabin pressure and a failure to get emergency oxygen led to the crash. To avoid hypoxia, a pilot has to react very quickly to a loss of cabin pressurization event, put on an oxygen mask and turn on the supplemental oxygen system, in order to have any ability to stay conscious to diagnose the problem and continue flying the aircraft. It is estimated that in the event of depressurization at an altitude of 35,000 feet, a pilot has 30 to 60 seconds to activate supplemental oxygen - and only 15 to 30 seconds in the case of a rapid depressurization event.
Investigators will also look at other potential causes including maintenance or a pilot medical emergency or some form of pilot error. Even when there may be evidence of pilot error, it is rare not to discover multiple failures and factors that converged and caused the catastrophe. Investigators will also focus on the condition of the aircraft and whether any systems or components failed or contributed to loss of control of the aircraft. It is important to remember that most crashes involve multiple failures and factors that converge and cause catastrophe.
Previous Experience with Cabin Depressurization
Kreindler aviation attorney (and veteran U.S. Navy aviator) Dan Rose and Kreindler attorney Evan Katin-Borland recently resolved a similar airplane depressurization case that claimed the lives of prominent Rochester, NY real estate developer Larry Glazer and his wife and fellow entrepreneur Jane Glazer. Their Socata TBM 900 aircraft depressurized during a flight from Rochester to their summer home in Naples, Florida. The lack of oxygen rendered the Glazers unconscious and the aircraft continued to fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the water off the coast of Jamaica. Kreindler represented the Glazer family and the litigation was successfully resolved against Daher SAS, the French manufacturer of the TBM 900 aircraft.
During that litigation, Kreindler attorneys and their experts conducted extensive analysis of the design of both the hardware and software used in the automated pressurization system, as well as the design and wording of the guidance provided to pilots in published emergency procedures regarding how to respond to a depressurization. The investigation, which lasted for approximately 3 years, allowed Kreindler attorneys to understand the nature of what caused the accident in far greater detail than even the NTSB and paid dividends in resolving the case.
The aircraft in Sunday’s Virginia tragedy, a Cessna 560 Citation V was manufactured in 1990, which may indicate that it was not equipped with safety features that are available on more recent models of Cessna Citation aircraft. Even so, the 1990 Cessna 560 Citation models were equipped with a sophisticated pressurization system that included multiple fail-safes and redundancies, including independent automated pressurization and manual pressurization systems, and an additional emergency bypass system in the event of a mechanical failure of automated and/or manual systems. The aircraft’s pilot’s operating handbook and checklists also include emergency procedures requiring a pilot to know to immediately respond to any depressurization even by immediately donning oxygen masks without consulting any written checklists in order to avoid a catastrophic impairment of judgment and loss of consciousness. This older Cessna 560 aircraft, however, may not have been equipped with the state-of-the-art Primus 1000 avionics system used in the newest Cessna 560 aircraft, which includes a feature called Emergency Descent Mode (“EDM”) which automatically detects a cabin depressurization and then automatically descends the aircraft to a safer altitude.
In the Media
News stories including a New York Post report provide some details about the tragic Cessna 560 Citation V jet crash. Following attempts to reach the Cessna’s crew, the F-16 fighter jets that were scrambled achieved supersonic speed, setting off a sonic boom that could be heard in Washington D.C and parts of Virginia and Maryland on Sunday afternoon.
While flying from New York to Florida in Larry and Jane Glazer's brand new Daher-Socata TBM 900, a defect in the plane's pressurization system caused an insidious cabin depressurization that rendered the couple unconscious causing the plane to crash.
Kreindler’s Experience with Cessna Crashes
Kreindler aviation attorneys have successfully handled many cases involving Cessna aircraft, including:
- The tragic crash of a Cessna Citation II 550 business jet iin which an emergency medical transplant team including two surgeons, two perfusionists, and two pilots were killed while transporting organs and en route to a patient awaiting a lung transplant at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
- Kreindler aviation attorney (and veteran Marine aviator) Justin Green and Kreindler attorney Evan Katin-Borland are currently working a case involving the fatal crash of a Cessna 560 XLS+ aircraft shortly after takeoff from Robertson Airport in Plainville, CT on September 2, 2021, that claimed the lives of two young doctors Courtney Haviland and William Shrauner.
General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA)
In 1994, Congress passed the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) to limit the amount of time manufacturers can be held liable for accidents involving aircraft that are 18 years or older at the time of the accident. This statute of repose can protect manufacturers from liability, but there are some exceptions to the rules. GARA was meant to address the impact of extended product liability on general aviation aircraft manufacturers. While it does limit liability for most accidents involving older aircraft, it doesn’t completely shield manufacturers from responsibility. There are still situations where they can be held liable for accidents involving their products.
About Kreindler & Kreindler
Kreindler is the preeminent aviation accident law firm in the world. Our aviation accident attorneys have been appointed as leading counsel in virtually every major commercial airline disaster case both in the United States and abroad. For more than seven decades, we have worked tirelessly to establish an unparalleled record of success in resolving aviation crash cases for our clients. Kreindler attorneys are always available to provide expert guidance and representation to victims of aviation accidents nationwide.
Photo Credit: Cessna 560 Citation V executive jet, Bob Adams