F-16 fighters chased unresponsive plane near DC area before it crashed in Virginia; no survivors found, authorities say

WASHINGTON – F-16 fighters from the D.C. National Guard scrambled Sunday at supersonic speed to intercept a private plane whose pilot was unresponsive, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The fighters intercepted the Cessna 560 Citation V plane at about 3:20 p.m., and it crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. The pilot never responded to attempts to establish communication, according to Northern Command.

U.S. Capitol Police officials said they were working with federal partners to monitor the unresponsive pilot as the plane flew near the National Capital Region on Sunday afternoon. According to Capitol Police, the U.S. Capitol Complex was "briefly placed on an elevated alert until the airplane left the area."

Search efforts by state and local agencies were underway for several hours. By Sunday night, no survivors were found and Virginia State Police suspended search efforts.

The intercept caused sonic booms heard across the Washington region, and the fighters also fired flares to get the pilot’s attention, according to NORAD. Officials in Bowie, Maryland, and the Annapolis Office of Emergency Management in Maryland said the sound was from a sonic boom from an aircraft flight, with the former reporting that the plane was from Joint Base Andrews.

"The loud boom that was heard across the DMV area was caused by an authorized DOD flight. This flight caused a sonic boom," the Annapolis Office of Emergency Management said on Twitter. "That is all the information available at this time."

The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management said they were aware of reports from community members throughout the National Capital Region and that there "is no threat at this time." People flooded social media with posts speculating the source of the ground-shaking sound, with several users reporting the boom shook their homes and rattled their windows.

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Mine Bank trail head, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Sunday June 4, 2023 a small plane crashed in the area.
Mine Bank trail head, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Sunday June 4, 2023 a small plane crashed in the area.

FAA, additional agencies investigating crash

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Sunday that a Cessna Citation crashed into mountainous terrain near Montebello in southwest Virginia around 3:30 p.m.

The plane departed from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the agency said. But the plane turned around over Long Island and flew a straight path down over D.C.

Flight tracking websites showed the plane spiraled and at one point, dropping at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute before crashing. The plane was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc., which is based in Florida.

John Rumpel, who runs that company, told The New York Times and The Washington Post that his daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny, and the pilot were aboard the plane. Rumpel also told the newspaper that they were returning to their home in East Hampton in Long Island, New York, after visiting him in North Carolina.

It was not immediately clear why the pilot of the plane was unresponsive or why the plane crashed. The crash is being investigated by the agency and the National Transportation Safety Board.

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Virginia State Police were notified of the crash near the Staunton and Blue Ridge Parkway region Sunday afternoon. State police spokesperson Corinne Geller said state and local agencies conducted search efforts by ground and air across the region.

Shortly before 8 p.m., first responders reached the crash site by foot, Geller said. But no survivors were located and state police suspended its search efforts.

"The Virginia State Police will identify the occupant(s) of the aircraft once that information becomes available," Geller said in a statement.

Montebello is an unincorporated community about 181 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

Saint Mary's Wilderness area is the site of rescue crews searching for a Cessna that crashed nearby on Sunday, June 4, 2023.
Saint Mary's Wilderness area is the site of rescue crews searching for a Cessna that crashed nearby on Sunday, June 4, 2023.

Sonic boom rattled residents near DC, surrounding area

The fighter jets caused a loud sonic boom that was heard across D.C. and parts of Virginia and Maryland.

Some residents reported their homes were shaken and windows were rattled from the boom. Several users on social media said it felt like an earthquake or massive explosion.

According to The Associated Press, President Joe Biden was playing golf at Joint Base Andrews around the time officials authorized the fighters to take off. Anthony Guglielmi, spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, said Sunday the incident did not impact the president’s movements.

The episode brought back memories of the 1999 crash of a Learjet that lost cabin pressure and flew aimlessly across the country with professional golfer Payne Stewart aboard. The jet crashed in a South Dakota pasture and six people died.

Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY; Jeff Schwaner, Staunton News Leader; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sonic boom in DC: F-16 jets scrambled to intercept unresponsive plane