A sonic boom sounded Sunday (June 4th) in Washington when two fighter jets sought to intercept an aircraft that was no longer responding before it crashed in the US state of Virginia, officials told AFP. Residents of the federal capital of the United States and its suburbs reported hearing a thunderous noise that shook windows and walls for miles around and raised many questions on social networks.
Two F-16 fighters were mobilized due to the lack of response from a private jet "Cessna 560 Citation V over Washington and northern Virginia," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement. The two fighter jets took off from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, a Pentagon official told AFP, to join the plane that then crashed in a mountainous area in southwestern Virginia.
A family on board
President Joe Biden, who was in the area on Sunday, was informed of the incident, a White House official told reporters without specifying whether any precautionary measures had been taken. According to public data, the plane was registered in the name of Florida-based Encore Motors of Melbourne.
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Owner John Rumpel told The Washington Post that his entire family was on board, including his daughter as well as a young child and nanny. "We don't know anything about the crash," he said. "We are now talking with the FAA ... I have to keep the line available." The civil aircraft had taken off from Elizabethton, Tennessee (east), to reach Long Island, New York (northeast), according to the US Civil Aviation (FAA).
Flightradar24 said, however, that the aircraft turned back after flying over Long Island to head south over Washington and Virginia. According to several US media, the crash site has not yet been located. Investigators hope to visit the scene Monday, according to The Washington Post.
NORAD fighters "were allowed to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom could be heard by residents of the area," the command said in a statement. The aircraft also launched decoys in an attempt to attract the pilot's attention. NORAD said it had sought to establish contact with the pilot before the crash of the aircraft, intercepting him around 15:20 p.m. local time (21:20 p.m. in Paris).
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The aircraft eventually crashed near Montebello, Virginia, about 270 miles southwest of Washington, around 15:30 p.m. local time (21:30 p.m. in Paris), the FAA reported. The military did not shoot down the plane, several US media reported. No information has yet been provided about the pilot and possible passengers of the aircraft. The Capitol and the buildings at its complex in Washington "were briefly placed on high alert until the plane left the area," Capitol Police said on Twitter.
Some 50 km east of the federal capital, the Emergency Management Office of the City of Annapolis wanted to reassure residents on Twitter, indicating that the noise heard "was caused by an authorized flight of the Department of Defense. This flight caused a sonic boom." Supersonic booms occur when a device breaks the sound barrier. They can surprise the population and cause damage, especially by breaking windows.