A sonic boom sounded in Washington on Sunday when two fighter jets sought to intercept an unresponsive aircraft before it crashed in the US state of Virginia, officials told AFP.
Residents of the federal capital of the United States and its suburbs have reported hearing a thundering noise that shook windows and walls for miles around and raised many questions on social networks.
Two F-16 fighters were mobilized due to a lack of response from a private jet "Cessna 560 Citation V over Washington and northern Virginia," the US Aerospace Defense Command described. North America (NORAD) in a press release.
The two fighter jets took off from the Andrews base in Maryland, a Pentagon official told AFP, to join the aircraft which then crashed in a mountainous area in the southwest of the country. state of Virginia.
President Joe Biden, who was in the area on Sunday, has been briefed on the incident, a White House official told reporters without specifying whether precautionary measures had been taken.
According to publicly available data, the plane was registered to Florida-based Encore Motors of Melbourne.
Its owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post daily that his entire family was on board, including his daughter as well as a grandchild and nanny.
"We don't know anything about the crash," he explained. "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 State (northeast), according to American Civil Aviation (FAA).
The flight-tracking website Flightradar24, however, said the aircraft turned back after flying over Long Island to head south, passing over Washington and Virginia.
According to several American media, the crash site has not yet been located. Investigators hope to attend the scene on 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 threw decoys in an attempt to get the pilot's attention.
NORAD said it had sought to establish contact with the pilot before the plane crashed, intercepting him around 3:20 p.m. local time (7:20 p.m. GMT).
The aircraft ultimately crashed near Montebello, Virginia, about 160 miles (270 km) southwest of Washington, at around 3:30 p.m. local time (1930 GMT), the FAA reported.
The military did not shoot down the plane, several US media reported.
No information has yet been released about the pilot and any passengers on the aircraft.
The United States Capitol and the buildings of its complex in Washington "were briefly placed on high alert until the aircraft left the area," Capitol Police said on Twitter.
About 30 miles east of the federal capital, the City of Annapolis Emergency Management Office took to Twitter to reassure residents that the crash heard "was caused by an authorized Department of Defense. This flight caused a supersonic boom".
Sonic booms occur when a device breaks the sound barrier. They can surprise the population and cause damage, in particular by breaking windows.
05/06/2023 04:56:01 - Washington (AFP) - © 2023 AFP