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Military jets scrambled due to unresponsive plane over Washington that then crashed in Virginia

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An unresponsive airplane flying over Washington, D.C., on Sunday prompted military fighter jets to intercept the plane at hypersonic levels, causing a loud sonic boom heard around D.C. and Virginia, officials said. The plane later crashed in Virginia.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deployed F-16 fighter jets to respond to the unresponsive Cessna 560 Citation V aircraft over Washington, D.C., and Virginia, NORAD said in a statement. The scramble was conducted by the 113th Fighter Wing of the D.C. National Guard, a U.S. official told CBS News. 

“The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” NORAD said, adding that flares, which may have been visible to the public, were also used in an attempt to get the pilot’s attention. 

Residents who happened to capture the sound of the fighter jets quickly took to social media, posting videos of the loud boom puncturing an otherwise seemingly quiet afternoon. 

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The plane had been following “a strange flight path,” the U.S. official said. 

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The Cessna departed from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, the Federal Aviation Administration said

Flight trackers showed the plane departing heading north to Long Island from Tennessee before turning around and flying straight down to D.C. The trackers showed the plane descend rapidly before crashing, dropping at one point at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute, The Associated Press reported. 

The Cessna was intercepted by the fighter jets at approximately 3:20 p.m. ET. The pilot remained unresponsive throughout NORAD’s attempts to establish contact, and the aircraft eventually crashed near the George Washington Forest in Virginia, the statement said.  

The FAA confirmed that the plane crashed into mountainous terrain near Montebello, Virginia. A U.S. official told CBS News that the Cessna was not shot down by the F-16s.

Capitol Police said in a statement said that it had monitored the airplane and temporarily placed the Capitol Complex “on an elevated alert until the airplane left the area.”

Virginia State Police were notified of the crash and deployed to locate the wreckage, which had not been found as of Sunday night. Mountainous terrain and fog were posing challenges to recovery efforts, police said. 

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The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board confirmed they are jointly investigating the crash. 

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