Sonic boom from fighter jets chasing Cessna rattles Washington

No survivors found after private aircraft crashes in south-west Virginia

The moment a military aircraft passes through the speed of sound, creating a sonic boom. AFP
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A US plane that failed to respond to messages led F-16 fighter jets in a supersonic chase across Washington before crashing into the mountains of south-west Virginia on Sunday.

No survivors were found at the crash site, state officials said.

The aircraft's owner told The New York Times that four people, including his daughter and granddaughter, were aboard, along with a nanny and pilot.

The Defence Department authorised the use of high-speed fighter jets to intercept the wayward Cessna 560 Citation V, which had infringed on airspace around the nation's capital. The fighter jets caused a sonic boom as they chased down the aircraft.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the crash of the Cessna occurred about the same time as the sonic boom was reported in the capital.

A US official said the jet fighters' pursuit did not lead to the aircraft's crash.

The aircraft appeared to be operating on autopilot and failed to respond to authorities' attempts at communication, Reuters reported.

The Cessna departed from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee and was bound for MacArthur Airport in New York, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

The North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad), which oversees the airspace in the US and Canada, said the fighter jets also used flares to attract the pilot's attention.

“The Norad aircraft were authorised to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” it said.

The private aircraft was intercepted at about 3.20pm EST and crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.

While such incidents are unusual, they are not unheard of.

One tragedy occurred in 1999 when golfing star Payne Stewart and four others died after their aircraft travelled thousands of kilometres with all onboard unresponsive.

The plane eventually crashed in South Dakota, leaving no survivors.

The sonic boom caused concern among residents in the capital region, many of whom took to Twitter to report a ground-shaking noise.

Witnesses as far away as northern Virginia and Maryland reported hearing the startling noise.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 11:56 AM