A BIG BANG that had residents in Bordeaux and La Rochelle calling firefighters in a panic yesterday afternoon was caused by the sonic boom of one of two fighter jets crossing the sound barrier.
The Rafale jets were scrambled from Mont-de-Marsan to intercept a United Airlines flight from Rome to Washington after instruments detected a fault in the airliner’s radio and triggered an alert.
The Boeing plane had reportedly “lost its echo” as it entered French airspace and had started to veer off its designated flight plan, said Le Parisien.
The fighters were flying at 35,000ft and about 100km south of Bordeaux when, just after 2pm, they were given permission to break the 1,000kph sound barrier to intercept the transatlantic flight.
The explosion as the planes crossed the sound barrier prompted many worried calls to firefighters in Gironde and Charente-Maritime.
The fighter pilots made contact with the commercial plane between La Roche-sur- Yon and Nantes. After confirming the nature of the problem, the airliner was allowed to continue its journey, and the fighter pilots returned to base at subsonic speed.
The French Air Force later said this type of operation is relatively common, with 70 such intercept flights taking place in 2013.