A loud noise that shook Washington, DC on Sunday afternoon and sent some residents into a brief panic was the sonic boom from a US Department of Defense-authorized flight, authorities said.
It came as fighter jets rushed in pursuit of a light aircraft that had violated airspace in the Washington DC area and then crashed into mountainous terrain in southwestern Virginia, Reuters reported, citing US officials.
The fighter jets caused the sonic boom over the US capital as they raced to catch up with a Cessna Citation business jet, which can carry between seven and 12 passengers, officials said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said a Cessna plane crashed into mountainous terrain in southwestern Virginia at the time the sonic boom was heard in the capital.
A US official said the fighter jets 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 efforts by authorities to contact it. It was not immediately clear why the pilot was unresponsive.
Reports of an “explosion” began surfacing online shortly after 3:00 p.m. when some residents took to Twitter to share what they heard and seek information on the source of the sound.
“Big boom or bang in Washington DC a couple of minutes ago. It seems people from Northern Virginia to Maryland heard it. It shook homes here on Capitol Hill. Does anyone know what it was?” one person tweeted.
Another user wrote: “I heard a strange sound like an explosion here in Alexandria. I can’t see anything in either direction and I can see DC/MD from here. Nobody else? What was that? I see tweets mentioning him from Woodbridge to Annapolis.”
At 3:32 pm, DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management tweeted that he was aware of “reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a loud ‘boom’ this afternoon.”
“There is no threat at this time,” he added.
The Annapolis Office of Emergency Management confirmed the source of the noise shortly thereafter. saying: “The loud boom that was heard through 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.”
Bowie City, Maryland, tweeted that the noise was from a “Joint Base Andrews aircraft.”
While rare, incidents involving unresponsive pilots are unprecedented. Golfer Payne Stewart died in 1999 along with four other people after the plane he was on traveled thousands of miles without the pilot or passengers responding. The plane ultimately crashed in South Dakota with no survivors.