A loud noise which rocked Washington DC on Sunday afternoon and sent some residents into a brief panic was a sonic boom from a flight authorized by the US department of defense, officials said.
It came as jet fighters were scrambled to pursue a light aircraft that had violated airspace in the Washington DC area and later crashed into mountainous terrain in south-west Virginia, Reuters reported, citing US officials.
The jet fighters caused the sonic boom over the US capital as they raced to catch up with a Cessna Citation business aircraft, which can carry between seven to 12 passengers, the officials said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said a Cessna aircraft crashed into mountainous terrain in south-west Virginia around the time the sonic boom was heard in the capital.
A US official said the jet fighters did not cause the crash. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the Cessna was believed to be on autopilot and did not respond to authorities’ efforts to make contact with it. It was not immediately clear why the pilot was unresponsive.
Reports of an “explosion” began to emerge online shortly after 3pm as some residents went to Twitter to share what they heard and look for information about where the sound came from.
“Huge boom or explosion in Washington DC a couple of minutes ago. Seems people from Northern Virginia to Maryland heard it. Shook homes here on Capitol Hill. Does anyone know what it was?” one person tweeted.
Another user wrote: “Heard an odd explosion-like sound here in Alexandria. Can’t see anything in any direction and I can see to DC/MD from here. Anybody else? What was that? I see tweets mentioning it from Woodbridge to Annapolis.”
At 3:32pm, DC homeland security and emergency management tweeted that it was aware of “reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a loud ‘boom’ this afternoon”.
“There is no threat at this time,” it added.
The Annapolis office of emergency management shortly later confirmed the source of the noise, saying: “The loud boom that was heard across the [DC, Maryland and Virginia] area was caused by an authorized [Department of Defense] flight. This flight caused a sonic boom. That is all the information available at this time.”
The city of Bowie, Maryland, tweeted that the noise was from a “plane out of Joint Base Andrews”.
While rare, incidents involving unresponsive pilots are not unprecedented. Golfer Payne Stewart died in 1999 along with four others after the aircraft he was in streaked across thousands of miles with the pilot and passengers unresponsive. The plane eventually crashed in South Dakota with no survivors.
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