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Fighter jets scrambled near D.C. to check off-course private plane that ultimately crashed

The Cessna's pilot appeared to be incapacitated, National Guard pilots reported. Four people were on board; no survivors had been found by Sunday evening.
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Fighter jets were scrambled Sunday afternoon to investigate a private plane that was flying off-course over the Washington, D.C., area until the Cessna crashed in southwest Virginia.

The noise the jets created rattled the region on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Pilots from the Capital Guardians, a unit of the 113th Wing of the D.C. National Guard, determined that the pilot was incapacitated, a senior government official said. The fighters shadowed the Cessna until it crashed, the official said.

The senior government official said the plane may have run out of fuel.

No survivors had been found by Sunday evening, and the search was suspended. Officials said four people were on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, said F-16 fighter aircraft intercepted the plane and tried to contact the pilot repeatedly using flares until just before the crash, near George Washington National Forest.

"The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region," it said. 

The sound was reported around 3 p.m. to local law enforcement and on social media throughout the District of Columbia-Northern Virginia-Maryland area, known casually as the DMV.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the Cessna Citation went down in a sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia about 3 p.m. Virginia State Police said in a Sunday night statement that no survivors were found.

President Joe Biden was briefed, a White House official said. A source familiar told NBC News that the Secret Service's Airspace Division monitored the aircraft's movements and that there was no impact on Secret Service protectees.

Biden was playing golf with his brother Jimmy at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sunday afternoon before he returned the White House by motorcade. At one point reporters spotted him driving a golf cart.

The plane was registered to a corporation based in Melbourne, Florida, owned by John Rumpel, who said by phone Sunday that his daughter and granddaughter, along with their nanny and the plane's pilot, were on board. At the time, he said he was still awaiting news on their status.

The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, bound for New York’s Long Island MacArthur Airport, the FAA said.

The aircraft may have overflown its destination at an altitude of 34,000 feet, then turned southwest, senior officials said. After radio contact ceased, the FAA alerted an ongoing security conference call that includes the military and the Department of Homeland Security, an official said, prompting the callout for fighters to be scrambled.

Officials later said the jet passed the Washington area after 3 p.m.

Washington police, Bowie, Maryland, police and other police departments said they sent units to neighborhoods around the area in an unsuccessful search for the source of the sound.

Experts and investigators who examine plane crashes with incapacitated pilots often zero in on cabin depressurization and hypoxia, or loss of oxygen, as a culprit.

Hypoxia was cited as the cause of a 1999 Learjet crash in which professional golfer Payne Stewart died.

It was also eyed in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.