Sonic Boom in DC as F-16 Fighter Aircraft Intercept Cessna

From a story on by Rebecca Falconer headlined “Sonic boom in D.C. as F-16 fighter aircraft move to intercept Cessna”:

A sonic boom rang out across the D.C. region as authorities responded to an unresponsive pilot flying a Cessna that prompted officials to place the U.S. Capitol complex on alert on Sunday afternoon.

State of play: North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said it deployed F-16 fighter aircraft to intercept the plane that later crashed. Officials in Maryland said the boom was caused by an authorized Defense Department plane out of Joint Base Andrews.

Four people were on board the Cessna Citation 560 plane that “crashed into mountainous terrain” near Montebello, Virginia, per an emailed statement Sunday night from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the crash along with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The latest: Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said in an emailed statement Sunday night that local and state law enforcement began searching the Staunton-Blue Ridge Parkway area after being alerted to the crash at 3:50pm.

Just before 8pm, first responders reached the crash site by foot. “No survivors were located,” she said.

A White House official said President Biden was briefed on the situation, per a pool report. “The sound resulting from the authorized DOD aircraft was faint at JBA,” the official added.

Zoom out: Startled residents across the region posted on social media about hearing a “loud explosion” as the sonic boom occurred.

The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management tweeted just after 3:30pm: “We are aware of reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a loud ‘boom’ this afternoon. There is no threat at this time.”

Zoom in: NORAD said an emailed statement Sunday evening that the civilian aircraft was intercepted about 3:20pm ET.

“The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” per the NORAD statement.

“During this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares β€” which may have been visible to the public β€”in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot,” the statement said.

“The pilot was unresponsive and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia,” NORAD added. “NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the aircraft crashed.”

Meanwhile, the United States Capitol Police said in an emailed statement Sunday evening that its officials worked closely with federal partners to “monitor an unresponsive pilot” who was flying an airplane near the National Capital Region.

“The U.S. Capitol Complex was briefly placed on an elevated alert until the airplane left the area.

What’s next: The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board said they’re both investigating the crash near Montebello, Virginia, of the Cessna, which was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York after taking off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

The NTSB said in an emailed statement on Sunday night that investigators would request radar data, weather information and maintenance records as part of the investigation.

“NTSB investigators will look at the human, machine and environment as the outline of the investigation,” the statement added.

Between the lines: A sonic boom is “an impulsive noise similar to thunder,” according to the U.S. Air Force.

“It is caused by an object moving faster than sound β€” about 750 miles per hour at sea level,” per the Air Force.

Sonic booms can shatter glass, but the threat to communities is low.

“Buildings in good repair should suffer no damage by pressures of less than 16 pounds per square foot. And, typically, community exposure to sonic boom is below two pounds per square foot,” according to the Air Force.

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