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F-16s dispatched for unresponsive pilot of small plane near D.C.

(Reuters) - Two F-16 fighter jets were dispatched to check on a small plane that entered restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., on Saturday, and the fighter pilots observed the person at the controls to be unconscious before the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, officials said.

The pilot of the Cirrus SR22 propeller plane took off from Waukesha County Airport in Wisconsin and had been destined for Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

But the pilot failed to land as scheduled and remained at an altitude of about 13,000 feet as the plane crossed into restricted airspace around Washington, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement. The pilot had stopped responding to radio calls.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command dispatched two F-16 fighter jets, a spokeswoman for the agency said. Their pilots got alongside the small plane and saw that the pilot appeared to be unconscious, the Coast Guard statement said.

They stayed with the plane as it continued past the coast of Virginia, ran out of fuel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, the statement said.

The Coast Guard declined to identify the pilot pending notification of next of kin.

The Coast Guard sent a cutter ship, a helicopter and an airplane to search for the wreckage and the body of the pilot, but nothing has been recovered, Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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