Citation Jet Crashes In Virginia After Supersonic Intercept By F-16s (Updated)
A powerful blast was heard all across the region, sparking concerns and confusion from the Capital to the Virginia coast.
A powerful boom and resulting shutter fell across Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas as far as Virginia Beach at around 3:00 P.M. local time on Sunday causing mass confusion and concerns. Residents all over the area reported on social media that their homes shook and that the blast sounded like nothing else they had heard before. Now it appears that a fighter scramble was the culprit.
As always, the good folks over that the Radio Reference forums were listening. According to them, Huntress, the regional air defense sector control, cleared a flight of Vipers to go supersonic over the area.
This goes with initial statements by local authorities.
The War Zone reached out to Andrews AFB where the 121st Fighter Wing's F-16s, which typically cover the area in an air defense role, are based and they pointed us to 1st Air Force for information. We contacted 1st Air Force but have yet to hear a response.
Sonic booms often cause confusion, even when they are made at a large distance from populated areas. When they are made in much closer proximity to populated areas, especially at low altitudes, they can be confused with massive explosions or even significant earthquakes.
If this was an exercise in which aircraft would be going supersonic over populated areas, the question of why nobody was told that it would be going on remains open to debate. This is not normal practice regardless, which points to the possibility of this being something else.
We will continue to update this piece as more information comes available.
New information is painting a picture of what happened here, although details remain very limited at this time and are bound to change.
It appears this was a live intercept of a NORDO (non-responsive to radio calls) Cessna Citation 560 business jet. The aircraft began its journey out of Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee, flew over Long Island, before turning back directly toward Washington, D.C. The aircraft was intercepted and flew directly over the Capital before crashing near Staunton, Virginia. It is unclear if the aircraft went down on its own accord or was shot down over the rural countryside.
The FAA has issued a statement confirming the crash:
"A Cessna Citation crashed into mountainous terrain in a sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia around 3 p.m. local time on June 4. The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tenn., and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York. The FAA and NTSB will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and provide all further updates."
Here is a look at the VFR map of the area where the Citation went down. It is a remote and mountainous pocket that would be as good a place as any (in this small area of the country along the aircraft's flight path at least) for an unresponsive aircraft to go down.
We are also hearing that F-16C/Ds from Atlantic City were involved in this intercept, which makes sense considering where the Citation's course turned back towards the Capital.
Apparently, a Virginia State Police helicopter is over the general area now and search teams are marshaling.
The range of the Cessna 560 is very roughly similar to its flight track, adding to the likely possibility that it crashed after running out of fuel. It's also worth keeping in mind that Cessna 560s often operate via a single pilot.
UPDATE: 5:41 P.M. EST—
The plane was not shot down, a U.S. official has told The War Zone.
Also, according to an update from local media:
The crash is located 300 feet below the peak of a mountain, according to the spotting aircraft. Traffic among rescue crews mentioned the intersection of Beech Grove Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"Northeast of Mount Carmel Church at the tallest peak," a firefighter in the church parking lot reported seeing smoke from that location.
Other reports say that weather is hampering figuring out the exact location of the crash. With very little fuel onboard at the time of the crash, finding the site in a forested area will be challenging.
UPDATE: 6:17 P.M. EST—
ABC News is reporting that officials are telling them the F-16 pilots saw the Citation pilot passed out.
"The jets, which were deployed from Joint Base Andrews, saw that the pilot of the aircraft had passed out, this official said. The plane subsequently crashed."
This is a rapidly developing story. We will continue to update as we find out more.
UPDATE: 6:35 PM EST—
Official NORAD statement:
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – In coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, NORAD F-16 fighter aircraft responded to an unresponsive Cessna 560 Citation V aircraft over Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia on June 4, 2023.
The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region.
During this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares – which may have been visible to the public – in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot. Flares are employed with highest regard for safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground. Flares burn out quickly and completely and there is no danger to the people on the ground when dispensed.
The civilian aircraft was intercepted at approximately 3:20 p.m. Eastern Time. The pilot was unresponsive and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia. NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the aircraft crashed.
Also, the Capital was placed on elevated alert during the incident, but not at its highest alert level.
The plane was registered to "Encore Motors Of Melbourne Inc." according to the FAA's database.
UPDATE: 9:00 P.M. EST—
From our inquiry to the Virginia State Police:
At 3:50 P.M., the Virginia State Police was notified of a possible aircraft crash in the Staunton/Blue Ridge Parkway region. Search efforts are still underway by state and local law enforcement. Nothing has been located at this time.
ABC News is reporting that the FAA has stated four people were on board the C560 when it crashed.
Contact the editor: email@example.com