WASHINGTON (AP) — A wayward and unresponsive business plane that flew over the nation's capital Sunday afternoon caused the military to scramble a fighter jet before the plane crashed in Virginia, officials said. The fighter jet caused a loud sonic boom that was heard across the capital region.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the Cessna Citation took off from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, on Sunday and was headed for Long Island’s MacArthur Airport. Inexplicably, the plane turned around over New York’s Long Island and flew a straight path down over D.C. before it crashed over mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia, around 3:30 p.m.
It was not immediately clear why the plane was nonresponsive, why it crashed or how many people were on board.
A U.S. official confirmed to The Associated Press that the military jet had scrambled to respond to the small plane, which later crashed. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the military operation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Flight tracking sites showed the jet suffered a rapid spiraling descent, dropping at one point at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute before crashing in the St. Mary’s Wilderness.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command later said in a statement that the F-16 was authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, which caused a sonic boom.
“During this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares – which may have been visible to the public – in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot,” the statement said. “Flares are employed with highest regard for safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. Flares burn out quickly and completely and there is no danger to the people on the ground when dispensed.”
The plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne Inc. A woman who identified herself as Barbara Rumpel, who is listed as the president of the company in Melbourne, Florida, said she had no comment Sunday when reached by a reporter for The Associated Press.
President Joe Biden was playing golf at Joint Base Andrews around the time the fighter jet took off. Anthony Guglielmi, spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, said the incident had no impact on the president’s movements Sunday. Biden was playing golf at the Maryland military base with his brother in the afternoon.
A White House official said: “The President was briefed on the incident. The sound resulting from the authorized DOD aircraft was faint at JBA.”
The Pentagon and the D.C. Air National Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Associated Press writers Chris Megerian in Washington and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.