Unresponsive small plane in US airspace makes military jet to scramble before crashing

By India Today World Desk: No survivors were found at the crash site of a plane whose pilot was unresponsive as it flew near the US capital, Washington DC, prompting military fighter jets to attempt to intercept the aircraft before it ultimately crashed in Virginia.

The jet fighters prompted a sonic boom over Washington DC in an attempt to pursue the errant Cessna Citation, causing consternation among people in the area, officials told news agency Reuters.

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A Cessna Citation can carry seven to 12 passengers. Four people were on board the Cessna, a source familiar with the matter said.

According to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware, the Cessna was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida.

Encore owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny were on board.

“We know nothing about the crash,” the Post quoted Rumpel as saying. “We are talking to the FAA now,” he added before ending the call.

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North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement that the “US military attempted to establish contact with the pilot, who was unresponsive, until the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.”

The Cessna appeared to be flying on autopilot, another source familiar with the matter said.

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

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A US official said the jet fighters did not cause the crash.

The Cessna took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan, the FAA said in a statement, adding that it and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.

According to Flight Aware, the plane appeared to reach the New York area and made nearly a 180-degree turn, with the flight ending in Virginia.

Virginia state police said they were searching for the wreckage but had yet to find it.

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