A loud noise that was heard across much of the Washington, DC area on Sunday afternoon was caused by the sonic boom of military aircraft rushing to respond to an intrusion into restricted airspace by a private flight, military and U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.
Two fighter jets were dispatched from Joint Base Andrews after a Cessna entered restricted airspace, prompting the emergency response to intercept the flight, officials confirmed on Sunday.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which oversees aerospace control for the United States and Canada, said in a statement that two F-16 jets were deployed after the Cessna 560 Citation V flew over Washington and Northern Virginia.
NORAD said the fighter jets “were allowed to travel at supersonic speeds”, which would have produced the boom that was heard in the region and which some reports have been noticed as far away as the suburbs of Virginia and of Maryland. The NORAD plane also used flares that might have been visible from the ground, the agency said, “in an effort to get the pilot’s attention.”
After the Cessna veered into the restricted area, which includes important national landmarks, the Federal Aviation Administration called the pilot but received no response from that plane, and the military ordered the jets to intercept, a military official said.
Officials later determined that the Cessna plane did not pose a threat, and the investigation will examine why the pilot did not respond to the FAA. The Cessna was not shot down, officials said.
The Cessna crashed near George Washington National Forest in Virginia, NORAD said, although an earlier statement from the FAA said it ‘crashed into mountainous terrain in a sparsely populated area southwestern Virginia,” near Montebello, around 3:30 p.m. local time.
The plane had taken off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was heading to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, New York, the agency said, adding that the incident was under investigation. The Cessna Citation bound for Long Island Airport left Tennessee at 1:13 p.m., according to flight tracking site FlightAware.
The condition of anyone on board was not immediately clear.
The Annapolis Emergency Management Office also had said on Twitter that the sonic boom was the result of an authorized Department of Defense flight.
Shortly after the incident, people reported on social media that they heard a loud boom in Washington, as well as in Maryland and Northern Virginia. Many said the noise sounded like an explosion, and some said the boom was so loud it shook their homes. A sonic boom is caused by an object moving faster than sound, about 750 miles per hour at sea level.
The sound of the sonic boom startled people across the Washington area, with many taking to social media to speculate on what might have been the cause.
Rafael Olivieri, 62, said he was at home in Annandale, Va., when he heard a “loud, very short sound” that shook his house. Mr. Olivieri ran outside, where his neighbors were also trying to figure out what had happened. “My first thing was to look up to the sky,” he said. “I was really worried.”
More than 30 miles to the northeast, in Edgewater, Maryland, 47-year-old Joseph Krygiel also felt the boom. He said he was in his basement just after 3 p.m. when the whole house shook. “It looked like something major,” Mr. Krygiel said.
Washington’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency also acknowledged the boom.
“We are aware of reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a strong ‘boom’ this afternoon,” the agency said. said on Twitter. “There is no threat at the moment.”