Sonic boom ‘explosion’ shakes Washington DC as fighter jets react to unresponsive plane before crash

The Department of Defence scrambled fighter jets to intercept a private jet that entered Washington DC airspace and later crashed into mountainous terrain in southwest Virginia, officials said.

The F-16s caused a sonic boom that shook houses across the US Capital at around 3pm as they took off from Andrews Air Force Base in a high speed pursuit of the Cessna Citation, a US official told Reuters.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told The Independent the aircraft had taken off from Tennessee bound for New York but had crashed into a sparsely populated area near Staunton, about 150 miles southwest of DC.

There was no immediate word on whether there were any casualties, or how many people were on board the Cessna, which can seat up to 12 passengers.

The fighter jets did not not cause the plane to crash, a US official told Reuters.

A source told Reuters that the aircraft appeared to be on auto pilot and did not respond to authorities.

In a statement, an FAA spokesperson said: “The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York,” an FAA spokesperson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation into the crash, the spokesperson added.

The “loud boom” shook houses and rattled windows in the US capital and was heard as far away as northern Virginia and Annapolis, Maryland, soon after 3pm.

“People all over DC area report hearing loud explosion shaking some houses,” journalist Oliya Scootercaster posted.

A Ring doorbell camera appeared to capture the sound at 3.07pm, according to footage posted to Twitter.

According to flight tracker website FlightRadar24, a plane with a registration number N611VG took off from the Elizabethton, flying over New Jersey and New York before descending into a mountain in Virginia.

According to the Aviation Safety website, the plane veered of its planned route about 1 hour 15 minutes into the flight. It went past its intended destination in Long Island, and began a rapid descent spiral shortly before it crashed, according to the site.

A  Cessna Citation similar to the one that crashed into a Virginia mountain side on Sunday afternoon (File photo) (Getty Images)
A Cessna Citation similar to the one that crashed into a Virginia mountain side on Sunday afternoon (File photo) (Getty Images)

The fixed-wing multi engine plane is owned by Florida company Encore Motors of Melbourne, according to the FAA.

A DoD spokesperson told The Independent that the North American Aerospace Defense Command was preparing to make a statement on the incident.

The City of Annapolis Office of Emergency Management said in a tweet that the deafening sound came from an authorised US Department of Defense flight which had flown at faster than the speed of sound, causing a sonic boom.

The DC Fire and EMS Twitter account said emergency response officials were aware of the reports of a loud boom in the area.

Washington DC Metro police referred The Independent to the US Department of Defense for further information.

Andrew Leydon, a DC-based freelance journalist, claimed the DC Air National Guard had been conducting drills over Chesapeake Bay on Sunday afternoon and was cleared to go supersonic during an alert scramble exercise.

On the Radio Reference forum, users reported hearing an F-16 pilot say they had gone supersonic while flying Chesapeake Bay.

The United States Geological Survey did not report an earthquake on the East Coast at that time.

Twitter users reported hearing the explosion as far away as Alexandria, Virginia.

Thomas O’Brien said in a tweet he had been on a FaceTime with family in Maryland who immediately got off the call because of the explosion.

“Weird that nobody seems to know what caused it,” he posted.