WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) – The United States launched F-16 fighter jets in a supersonic pursuit of a small plane with an unconscious pilot that violated the airspace around Washington DC and then crashed into the mountains of Virginia, authorities said. .
No survivors were found at the crash site, Virginia State Police said.
The fighter jets created a sonic boom over the US capital as they chased the errant Cessna Citation, authorities said, causing consternation among people in the Washington area.
Four people were aboard the Cessna, a source familiar with the matter said. A Cessna Citation can carry from seven to 12 passengers.
After several hours, first responders arrived at the crash site but found no one alive, the Virginia State Police said in a statement.
The Cessna was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida, according to the Flight Aware flight tracking website.
Encore owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post that his daughter, a grandson and their nanny were on board.
“We don’t know anything about the accident,” the Post quoted Rumpel as saying. “We’re talking to the FAA now,” he added before ending the call.
The US military tried to contact the unresponsive pilot until the Cessna crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.
The Cessna appeared to be flying on autopilot, another source familiar with the matter said.
“The NORAD aircraft was cleared to travel at supersonic speeds and residents of the region may have heard a sonic boom,” the statement said, adding that the NORAD aircraft also used flares in an attempt to get the pilot’s attention.
A US official said the fighters did not cause the accident.
The Cessna took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was headed for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan, the FAA said in a statement, adding that both he as the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.
According to Flight Aware, the plane appeared to reach the New York area and then did a nearly 180-degree turn.
Incidents involving unresponsive pilots are unprecedented. Golfer Payne Stewart died in 1999 along with four other people after the plane he was on flew thousands of miles without the pilot or passengers responding. The plane ultimately crashed in South Dakota with no survivors.
In the case of Stewart’s flight, the plane lost cabin pressure, causing the occupants to lose consciousness due to lack of oxygen.
Similarly, a small US private plane with an unresponsive pilot crashed off the east coast of Jamaica in 2014 after going far off course and triggering a US security alert that included a fighter jet escort.
On Sunday, the sonic boom shook many people in the Washington area who took to Twitter to report hearing a loud noise that shook the floor and walls. Several residents said they heard the noise as far away as Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Reporting by David Shepardson, Phil Stewart, Ted Hesson, David Lawder, Daniel Trotta, Rachael Levy, and Diane Bartz; Written by Ross Colvin and Daniel Trotta; Edited by Lisa Shumaker and Gerry Doyle
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.