US authorities scrambled fighter jets to intercept an unresponsive light aircraft that violated the airspace over the Washington DC area and later crashed into mountainous terrain in south-west Virginia, officials have said.
Four people were onboard the Cessna Citation plane, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed source. Police said rescuers had found no survivors onboard the plane.
The US fighter jets caused a sonic boom over Washington DC on Sunday, as they raced to catch up with the light aircraft, sending some resident into a brief panic.
A US official said the jet fighters did not cause the crash.
The plane that crashed was registered to a company based in Florida. John Rumpel, who runs the company, told the New York Times that his daughter, two-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the plane. They were returning to their home in East Hampton, on Long Island, after visiting his house in North Carolina, he said.
Rumpel, a pilot, told the newspaper he didn’t have much information from authorities but hoped his family didn’t suffer and suggested the plane could’ve lost pressurisation.
The US military attempted to establish contact with the pilot, who was unresponsive, until the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) said in a statement.
“The Norad aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” the statement said, adding that Norad aircraft also used flares in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot.
“Flares are employed with highest regard for safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. Flares burn out quickly and completely and there is no danger to the people on the ground when dispensed.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said the Cessna took off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, on Sunday and was headed for Long Island’s MacArthur Airport.
According to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware, the plane appeared to reach the New York area and made nearly a 180-degree turn, flying a straight path down over DC with the flight ending in Virginia.
The sonic boom caused consternation among many residents in the capital region, who took to Twitter to report hearing a loud noise that shook the ground and walls. Several residents said they heard the noise as far away as northern Virginia and Maryland.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report
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