A loud boom in the Washington DC area which residents of the US capital said shook houses and sounded like an explosion was caused by military jets which had been scrambled to deal with an airspace violation.

US officials have confirmed that the sound was the sonic boom of fighters pursuing a light aircraft that had entered restricted territory over the US capital.

The jets were racing to catch up with the Cessna Citation, which can carry between seven to 12 passengers, officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said a Cessna aircraft crashed into mountainous terrain in southwest Virginia around
the time the sonic boom was heard in the capital. A US official said the jet fighters did not cause the crash.

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A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the Cessna was believed to be on autopilot and did not respond to authorities’ efforts to make contact with it.

The sound was heard at around 3.30pm local time and residents went on social media to find out what had just happened.

Cole Rojewski, a Washington DC lobbyist, tweeted: “Huge boom or explosion in Washington DC a couple of minutes ago. Seems people from Northern Virginia to Maryland heard it. Shook homes here on Capitol Hill. Does anyone know what it was?”

Others suggested that the city might have been struck by an earthquake, while some residents reportedly called the 911 emergency service.

The Department of Homeland Security tweeted soon after the sound: “We are aware of reports from communities throughout the National Capital Region of a loud ‘boom’ this afternoon. There is no threat at this time.”

Eventually, the Office of Emergency Management of the city of Annapolis, 30 miles (50km) to the east of the capital, said that the sound was the result of a military exercise.

“The loud boom that was heard across the DMV area was caused by an authorized DOD flight. This flight caused a sonic boom. That is all the information available at this time,” the agency tweeted.

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