Sonic Boom Updates: F-16s Investigate Unresponsive Aircraft

Norman Ray

Global Courant

D.C. Air National Guard F-16s were scrambled from Maryland on Sunday — causing a sonic boom to be heard over much of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area — to investigate what the North American Aerospace Defense Command called an “unresponsive” Cessna company called jetliner that entered a restricted area above the nation’s capital and eventually crashed into a forest area in southwestern Virginia.

“In coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the NORAD F-16 fighter responded to an unresponsive Cessna 560 Citation V aircraft over Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia on June 4, 2023,” said a statement from NORAD’s Continental Americas Region.

“The pilot did not respond and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia,” it added.

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Virginia State Police were on their way to the crash site, which is located in a mountainous region of southwestern Virginia.

There were four people aboard the Cessna that originally took off from Elizabethton, Tennessee, bound for New York’s Long Island MacArthur Airport, the FAA said. No survivors have been found, Virginia state police said in a statement Sunday night.

A flight tracking website showed that the Cessna had flown at an altitude of 34,000 and reached Long Island, but it did not appear to have landed, but was heading back to the DC area.

The F-16s scrambled from Joint Base Andrews just outside the nation’s capital, an area always subject to strict flight restrictions. According to the White House, President Joe Biden was playing golf on the base’s golf course as events unfolded.

NORAD said the fighter jets were “authorized to travel at supersonic speeds” so they could overtake the Cessna after it flew over the DC area in what a US official told ABC News was a strange flight pattern over the nation’s capital .

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In its statement, NORAD acknowledged that the noise that had startled DC area residents around 3 p.m. ET was likely caused by the sonic boom created by the jets as they flew at supersonic speeds.

“During this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares — which may have been visible to the public — in an attempt to get the pilot’s attention,” the NORAD statement said.

NORAD said that when the Cessna was intercepted at approximately 3:20 p.m., “the pilot failed to respond and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia. NORAD attempted contact until the plane crashed.”

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A US official had previously told ABC News that it appeared the pilot at the wheel of the Cessna had “passed out”.

The FAA said in a statement that the Cessna appeared to have crashed at 3:30 p.m., 10 minutes after the F-16s intercepted the plane.

Another US official told ABC News that the White House and Capitol were on high alert, but not on “red alert,” which would have prompted an evacuation.

Virginia State Police said in a statement that they were notified at 3:50 p.m. of “a possible plane crash in the Staunton/Blue Ridge Parkway area.”

“Search efforts are still ongoing by state and local law enforcement,” police said. “Nothing has been found at the moment.”

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate what caused the Cessna to crash.

Some aviation experts speculated that hypoxia may have incapacitated the pilot.

Hypoxia “occurs when there isn’t enough oxygen in the cabin,” said Steve Ganyard, an ABC News aviator. Ganyard said he believes Sunday’s incident may be another example of hypoxia incapacitating those aboard the Cessna.

“The pressure has to keep enough air in the cabin to stay alert and awake. In this case, it can be treacherous where you lose consciousness, you start to tingle, you get a feeling of euphoria and very slowly the people in the cabin,” said Ganyard.

Clara McMichael, Sam Sweeney and Davone Morales of ABC News contributed to this report.

Sonic Boom Updates: F-16s Investigate Unresponsive Aircraft

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