US fighter aircraft set off a sonic boom that rattled the Washington area on Sunday as it chased an unresponsive Cessna jet that had flown over the region and then later crashed in Virginia.
The plane, a Cessna 560 Citation V, was unresponsive when hailed by authorities as it flew over Washington and northern Virginia, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said in a statement. No survivors were found when rescuers got to the wreckage, the Associated Press reported.
The NORAD aircraft deployed to respond to the Cessna “were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” according to the statement. NORAD aircraft also used flares, which may have been visible from the ground, in an attempt to draw the pilot’s attention, the agency said.
The US Capitol Complex was briefly placed on elevated alert until the airplane left the region, US Capitol Police said. Airspace near Washington has been highly restricted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident, a White House official said.
The New York Times reported that four people were on board the Cessna, a popular twin-jet business plane first introduced in 1987. They included a two-year-old girl, her mother, her nanny and the pilot, the Times said, citing an interview with John Rumpel, whose Florida-based Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc. owns the plane. Rumpel said his daughter and granddaughter were on the Cessna when it crashed.
Encore Motors didn’t return a voicemail seeking comment after normal business hours.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that a Cessna Citation crashed into mountainous terrain in Montebello, Virginia, around 3:30 p.m. The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the FAA said.
The crash occurred more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the southwest of Washington. NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the jet went down in Virginia, according to the statement.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate.
According to data provided by the tracking website Flightradar24, the Cessna flew at about 34,000 feet (10,400 meters), a normal cruising altitude for the small jet, toward Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York.
It turned and flew directly over the airport at about 2:30 p.m. ET, but instead of descending or landing toward the southwest — the direction it had turned — it instead continued on a straight path for about the next 50 minutes.
The jet’s path took it directly over Washington, including the highly sensitive US Capitol and White House, according to the Flightradar24 track.
Shortly after passing Charlottesville, Virginia, the jet went into a right turn and descended rapidly, going from 34,000 feet to 27,635 feet in about two minutes, Flightradar24 spokesman Ian Petchenik said. Just before it disappeared from the company’s tracking system, it was plunging at about 20,000 feet per minute, Petchenik said.
While no details have emerged on what caused the downing of the Cessna, aircraft autopilots in previous crashes involving incapacitated pilots have continued on a straight path beyond an airport destination.
Such descent speeds are highly unusual and could signal the plane ran out of fuel, or had some kind of midair malfunction or breakup.
The Anne Arundel County Office of Emergency Management in Maryland also confirmed on Twitter that the loud noise heard by people in the area was the result of a sonic boom, and said there is no threat associated with the incident.
--With assistance from Tony Capaccio.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.