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PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The Coast Guard suspended the search Sunday for a pilot who lost consciousness and crashed an airplane into the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia coast.
On Saturday, the plane drifted into restricted airspace over the nation's capital, scrambling fighter jets that stayed with the small aircraft until it ran out of fuel, the Coast Guard said.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn said the search was halted Sunday morning after a civilian boater recovered a wheel and engine cowling from the single-engine Cirrus. Littlejohn said the chances of finding anything else were slim.
Crews searched the waters for the plane, which crashed about 50 miles southeast of Chincoteague Island along the Virginia coast, Littlejohn said Saturday. The plane took off from Waukesha, Wis., and was headed to Manassas, Va., which is about 30 miles southwest of Washington, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said.
The plane, which had only a pilot on board, did not land at Manassas Regional Airport as scheduled. Instead, it stayed at an altitude of 13,000 feet and continued into restricted airspace near Washington, D.C., WVEC.com reported.
Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers tracked the plane through the restricted airspace early Saturday afternoon. The pilot had not been responding to radio calls since 1:00 p.m.The Coast Guard was notified about 2:40 p.m. Saturday.
Two F-16 fighter jets under the direction of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) came alongside the Cirrus SR20 to investigate and found the pilot unconscious in the cockpit.
The F-16 airmen escorted the Cessna on its course over the Eastern Shore of Virginia until it eventually ran out of fuel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and an HC-130 Hercules airplane crew from Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., and the crew of Cutter Beluga, based in Virginia Beach, to respond.
The pilot's name has not been released.
The plane was registered to Ronald Hutchinson, of Brookfield, Wis. Relatives reached at a phone listing for him didn't want to comment Saturday night, according to AP.
The NTSB is investigating.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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