The noise, like an explosion, of an F16 breaking the sound barrier in the middle of interception of a private plane flying over Washington without permission, shook the drowsiness of the residents of the capital and the surroundings on a sunny Sunday afternoon, causing bewilderment and panic. What happened?
Around three o'clock in the afternoon, a private plane moved erratically over the U.S. capital, so the military deployed at least two F16s before the plane crashed in the woods of Virginia, authorities said.
The flight of the fighters caused a sonic boom that was heard throughout the Washington region.
Hours later, police said rescue crews had arrived at the crash site in a rural part of the Shenandoah Valley and found no survivors.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the Cessna Citation jet took off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, en route to MacArthur Airport on Long Island, New York.
Inexplicably, the plane turned to return over Long Island and headed straight toward Washington before crashing over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, at about 3:30 p.m.
At the moment the causes of the crash of the plane are unknown. Was it shot down by F16s? How many people were on board? Why wasn't the plane responding to messages? Officially, no answers have been given.
However, John Rumpel, who runs the company that owns the plane, told The New York Times that his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, nanny and pilot were aboard the plane. They were returning to their residence in East Hampton, Long Island, after visiting him at his home in North Carolina, he said.
Search teams at the site where the Cessna crashed. Photo: AP
The aircraft flew directly over the nation's capital, hovering over some of the country's most restricted airspace.
A federal official confirmed to The Associated Press that a military aircraft was deployed to respond to the erratic behavior of the private jet, which was not responding to radio transmissions and subsequently went down and crashed.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the details of the military operation.
A drop at 9,000 meters per minute
Flight monitoring portals showed the plane suffered a nosedive, descending at one point at a rate of more than just over 9,000 meters per minute, before crashing into St. Mary's Wilderness Nature Park.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) later said in a statement that an F-16 was authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, which caused the sonic boom.
Authorities guard the wooded area where the plane crashed. Photo: AP
Local newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post instead say the Pentagon authorized the takeoff of two F-16s.
According to the Post, the fighters departed from Andrews Air Force Base. At least one of them was allowed to travel at supersonic speeds which generated the eerie rumble over the capital.
"During this event, NORAD aircraft also used flares — which may have been seen by the public — in an attempt to attract the pilot's attention," the statement said. "Flares are used with the utmost care to the safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. Flares are consumed quickly and completely, and people on the ground are not in danger when they are used."
Virginia State Police said their officers were notified of a possible crash shortly before 4 p.m. and rescuers arrived on foot at the crash site about four hours later. They found no survivors, police added.
The aircraft that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc.
What is that noise?
Washington residents were more concerned about the F16's rumble than the Cessna's presence, searching social media for answers about what had happened.
The Andrews base from where the F16s departed. Photo: AP
Military aircraft cause sonic booms when they travel very, very fast, either for testing and training purposes, or during emergencies.
Most U.S. Air Force fighter jets are capable of reaching the supersonic speed that causes sonic booms. "Supersonic training flights that simulate real combat conditions are necessary to ensure the success and survival of air crews during war," the Air Force states.
Clarín newsroom with information from the Associated Press and local media