Sonic boom in D.C. region caused by F-16s intercepting Cessna

Fighter jets from Joint Base Andrews were scrambled to intercept a private plane over Virginia on Sunday afternoon, causing a sonic boom that reverberated across the area, North American Aerospace Defense Command officials said.

The jets were responding to a Cessna that crashed later in Southwest Virginia, NORAD said in a statement issued Sunday night. F-16 jets from Andrews were scrambled, and the Cessna was unresponsive when hailed by authorities.

It is unclear why the Cessna did not respond or why it crashed later. Three people with knowledge of the event, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the military did not shoot the plane down and there is no indication that the military caused the crash. The jets used flares to try to get the Cessna pilot’s attention, NORAD said.

The Cessna was intercepted at about 3:20 p.m., but the pilot remained unresponsive and crashed near the George Washington National Forest, officials said. Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane had been unresponsive to air traffic control communications before it crashed.

The jets were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, officials said. The loud, explosive sound from the sonic boom startled residents across the District, Maryland and Virginia around 3:10 p.m. For nearly an hour, it was unclear what had made the noise.

On social media, people from Springfield, Va., to Bowie, Md., reported hearing the boom and feeling the accompanying vibrations that shook houses and left people searching for the source of the sound. The U.S. Capitol complex was briefly placed on heightened alert, Capitol Police said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that a Cessna Citation jet crashed near Montebello, Va., about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The aircraft had taken off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tenn., and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the FAA said.

President Biden was golfing with his brother Jimmy on Sunday afternoon at the course near Joint Base Andrews from 12:49 p.m. until 3:39 p.m., which was around the time the plane was in the D.C. region on autopilot. The White House said that the president was briefed on the incident and that the sound from the boom was “faint” where Biden was.

The official referred additional comments to the Secret Service about whether precautions were taken while Biden was golfing. The Secret Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Public aviation records said the plane that crashed was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, a Florida-based company. Reached by phone, John Rumpel said he was the owner of Encore. Asked whether the plane that crashed was owned by Encore, he said: “To the best of my knowledge.” Rumpel said his “entire family” was on board, including his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny. “We know nothing about the crash,” he said. “We are talking to the FAA now. … I’ve got to keep the line clear.”

The FAA said the NTSB would lead the investigation into the crash. The board said investigators hoped to reach the crash site Monday.

Data from flight tracking service Flightradar24 shows a plane matching the Citation’s description and flight path reaching Long Island before turning around. The plane flew directly over Washington before the data ends near Staunton, Va.

First responders reached the crash site shortly before 8 p.m., said Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the state police. No survivors were found, she said.


The Washington Post’s Martin Weil and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.