Best Of The Web: Early Analysis Of Citation Crash


In this brief video, AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Richard McSpadden runs through the likely scenarios that resulted in the June 4, 2023, crash of a Citation in Virginia southwest of Washington, D.C. The pilot became unresponsive and F-16s dispatched to intercept the flight observed him slumped in the pilot seat. Two scenarios seem likely: The aircraft lost pressurization and the pilot succumbed to hypoxia or suffered some sort of incapacitation such as a heart attack. It’s not known if the passengers remained conscious during the event.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. The video makes no mention of visual/audible cautions or warnings that this type/model of Citation had. Is it necessary to switch from differential press to altitude hold during climb out or is it a set it and forget it type of automation?
    Still there should have been something to alert the pilot that he’s above press alts that can sustain human life.
    Programming the autopilot to hold 34k ft seems a conscious effort to avoid the discomfort of having to don an oxygen mask necessary at or above 35k ft for single pilot operation.

    • “Programming the autopilot to hold 34k ft seems a conscious effort to avoid the discomfort of having to don an oxygen mask necessary at or above 35k ft for single pilot operation.”

      Interesting point. But the video said he filed for 39k. As the plane climbed it leveled off at various altitudes, the final being 34k. Presumably he was cleared to intermediate altitudes and would’ve been cleared for 39k, but communication appears to have been lost before that point.

  2. I don’t know about this particular aircraft but in many aircraft all audio, even system warning tones, can be set to only play through the headphones and not be heard through the cabin speaker/s. This would preclude them from being heard in the background during ATC transmissions. Certainly the cabin altitude warning light and tone would be operating if pressurization was the problem, but would ATC have heard it or the interceptor pilots seen the light? Also, if there was any visibility through the cabin windows, the interceptor pilots may have seen the spaghetti jungle or oxygen masks that should have fallen from the overhead as the cabin surely was above the auto deployment altitude. If it were a medical incapacitation of the pilot and pressurization was normal, passengers and or passenger movement may have been seen. If the interceptors took any video it may provide some needed clues.

    • No, it doesn’t mean you are “healthy”. It just means you met the FAA standards at the time of exam. If you put being overweight as a disqualification standard, you would ground most flights and then there would really be a pilot shortage.

  3. Sadly, the likely cause will be determined to be loss of pressurization despite the fact that some of the F-16 pilots reported seeing into the Citation windows. Loss of pressurization would result in the interior of the aircraft icing over. The other scenario, heart attack, could lead to some inconvenient truths. Recent data from the UK Health Security Agency’s ‘Ambulance Syndromic Surveillance System shows a dramatic increase in callouts for heart attacks and in another study an equally high rate of excess deaths from heart attacks since 2020.