Posted on Tue Jun 6 2023 6:41pm EST
NEW YORK (AP) — One of the passengers was a Jamaican babysitter known for her generous portions of plantain porridge. Another was a luxury real estate agent who returned from a family visit with her two-year-old daughter. The man behind the plane’s controls, last seen backing into the cockpit, was a qualified pilot with decades of experience.
The four died on Sunday when the private plane they were traveling in lost contact with air traffic controllers and crashed into a mountain in rural Virginia. At one point, an unresponsive Cessna Citation flew directly over Washington, causing a wave of military fighter jets to sonic boom around the D.C. area.
As federal investigators continue to piece together what happened, new details are emerging about those who lost their lives in a tragedy that left friends and family reeling from the Hamptons to South Florida.
Adina Azarian, 49, was well known in New York real estate circles, a luxury broker whose portfolio of exclusive listings was the envy of her colleagues, friends said. She became pregnant with her daughter during the pandemic and then hired 56-year-old Evadne Smith as a live-in nanny at her East Hampton home.
Known to the family as “Nanny V,” Smith traveled extensively with her mother and daughter, serving as the calming counterbalance to Azarian’s occupation of closing deals under pressure.
“Adina used to joke that she hired a nanny not only for her daughter, but for herself,” recalls Rafael Avigdor, an old friend of the real estate agent. He said he was so impressed that he hired Smith’s sister to babysit his mother in Florida.
Smith leaves behind a son in Jamaica who was otherwise unreachable.
Prior to the incident, Azarian, his daughter Aria, and Smith were in North Carolina visiting Azarian’s adoptive parents and prominent Republican donors John and Barbara Rampell.
Azarian, who grew up in Connecticut and New Hampshire with his mother, met Rumble by chance as an adult. The couple said Azarian reminded them of their daughter, Victoria, who died at the age of 19 in a diving accident.
“We got closer and closer to each other,” John Rampell recalled.
They felt such a strong bond with Azarian that they decided to adopt him – a process which was completed when Azarian was forty. Seven years later, Azarian conceived her daughter, Aria, through in vitro fertilization.
“I could not love a man more than I loved my grandfather,” Rumple said.
In recent years, Azarian has reconnected with his mother, Christina Graham, from Nashua, New Hampshire. Graham said she learned of the Rambles’ death after it was made public, but never heard directly from them.
“I find it difficult to accept that she is gone,” Graham said. We were building our relationships. We were getting there. »
The Rumble identified the pilot as Jeff Hefner.
Rampell, who owns several planes, said he hired Hefner, 69, to work for him full time as a pilot and mechanic. He said he had previously worked with Hefner for about five years.
“It was top of the class, absolutely top of the line,” Rumble said of Hefner’s riding skills. “I wouldn’t have made my daughter and my grandfather travel with him if he wasn’t.”
Dan Newlin, the attorney who runs the Florida law firm where Hefner served as captain, said Hefner was an “extremely accomplished and skilled pilot” who had flown for 25 years as captain for Southwest Airlines and had more than 25,000 flying hours. time. After retiring from Southwest, Newlin said in an email, Hefner became a certified pilot for several private jets. He said Hefner is married and has three children.
Officials said the pilot stopped responding to air traffic control instructions minutes after taking off from Tennessee. The plane flew to New York, near its destination on Long Island, then returned on course and flew directly over Washington.
Fighter pilots tasked with intercepting the errant flight said Hefner appeared unresponsive and backed off, officials said.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation, though experts said a loss of pressure inside the cabin was the leading theory.
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia