Sonic Boom in Greater DC Was F-16s Responding to Unresponsive Pilot

Sonic Boom in Greater DC Was F-16s Responding to Unresponsive Pilot
An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies a mission in a file photo. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby)
Melanie Sun

Authorities have confirmed that an explosive sonic boom heard by residents in the wider D.C. area came from Defense-authorized supersonic flights responding to an erratic small plane flying through the capital’s restricted airspace.

Federal officials have since said that the supersonic flights were responding to a small plane that crashed into a mountainside in the George Washington National Forest, southwestern Virginia.

“A Cessna Citation crashed into mountainous terrain in a sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia around 3 p.m. local time on June 4,” the FAA said in a statement.

The supersonic response was triggered as the National Capital Region above the greater D.C. area is a Special Flight Rules Area that restricts all flights without Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permission.

NORAD F-16 fighter jets were “authorized to travel at supersonic speeds” in the emergency response, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement, “and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region.”

Reports of a sonic boom came from Northern Virginia to Annapolis in Maryland, with many concerned residents calling 911 to report a loud explosion.

During its F-16 response, NORAD said its pilot used flares in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot. The flares may have been visible to the public.

Pilots of the two F-16s that responded said they saw that the Cessna pilot had passed out, according to reports.

“The civilian aircraft was intercepted at approximately 3:20 p.m. Eastern Time. The pilot was unresponsive and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia. NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the aircraft crashed,” the command added.

The NORAD response was not the cause of the crash, an official told Reuters.

No Survivors

Authorities found the wreckage just before 8 p.m. after hours of searching the mountainous terrain by foot, as search and rescue flights were not possible due to bad weather, Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller told reporters on Sunday evening.

“No survivors were located,” Geller said in a statement. Rescue efforts have now ended.

According to the FAA, “The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tenn., and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York. The FAA and NTSB will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and provide all further updates.”

Jennifer Gabris, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said on Sunday night that investigators are expected to arrive on the scene on Monday.

FlightAware, which tracks air traffic, shows an aircraft registered as N611VG tracking the flight path of the Cessna 560 aircraft, which took off from Elizabethton, flew over New Jersey, New York, and was then detected descending in a rapid spiral into the mountainside in Virginia.

The plane belonged to the Floridian company Encore Motors of Melbourne, Inc., according to FAA records.

Company owner John Rumpel has since told The New York Times that his adopted daughter, 50,; granddaughter, 2; their live-in nanny, and the pilot were aboard the plane.

They were flying home to East Hampton, Long Island, after visiting him in North Carolina, he said.

His granddaughter was “the only one I have, and the only daughter I have.”

Rumpel has asked the media for privacy at this difficult time as the family grieves their loss.

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