Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press
Military fighter jets intercepted an unresponsive plane that flew over Washington, D.C., before the plane crashed in mountainous southwest Virginia on Sunday afternoon, officials said. The supersonic speeds of the responding fighter jets produced a loud boom heard over the nation’s capital region.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.
A Cessna Citation aircraft, a business jet, departed from Elizabethton, Tenn., and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the FAA said. But instead of landing, the plane turned around over Long Island and flew a straight path over D.C.
NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) F-16 jets intercepted the Cessna plane around 3:20 p.m., NORAD said in a statement. The pilot was found unresponsive, NORAD said, and the military aircraft tried to make contact with the Cessna pilot until the plane crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.
“The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents in the region,” NORAD said.
Before crashing in Virginia, the plane flew over D.C. at an altitude of 34,000 feet, according to tracking data from FlightAware.
As it flew over the nation’s capital region, the Capitol Complex was briefly placed on an elevated alert until the airplane left the area, a Capitol police spokesperson said in a statement.
Virginia State Police said in a statement that it was notified of a possible aircraft crash at 3:50 p.m. in the Staunton/Blue Ridge Parkway region.
“Search efforts are still underway by state and local law enforcement,” a state police spokesperson said in an email Sunday evening. “Nothing has been located at this time.”
The NTSB will lead the investigation and provide future updates, the FAA said. NPR has reached out to the NTSB for more information.
NPR’s Joe Hernandez and Russell Lewis contributed to this report.