PARIS — A loud boom startled the city of Paris and its suburbs on Wednesday, halting pedestrians in their tracks, interrupting tennis players at the French Open, and sending social media into a flurry of speculation over the origin of the noise.
The source, it turned out, was a fighter jet breaking the sound barrier as it flew overheard, authorities quickly said, appealing for calm and asking residents, jarred by the sound, to stop calling emergency lines.
But in a city still deeply affected by devastating terrorist attacks in 2015 — and smaller, sporadic incidents since then — many thought, even if just for a fleeting moment: “Is this another one?”
The threat of terrorism in the French capital has never diminished, authorities often warn, but fears of an attack have been particularly salient over the past week. On Friday, a man attacked two people with a meat cleaver in front of the former Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, amid an ongoing trial for several people linked to the 2015 attack on the publication.
The fighter jet, a French Rafale, was scrambled from an air force base about 100 miles east of Paris to help a civilian aircraft that had lost contact with air traffic control, the French air defense command said in a statement on Twitter.
The jet was authorized to travel at supersonic speed shortly before noon as it was flying over Créteil, a southeastern suburb of Paris, in order to quickly catch up with the aircraft, which was heading toward Brittany. The boom instantly rattled windows in the surrounding area.
“Radio contact was reestablished with the civilian airplane and the situation returned to normal,” the statement said, adding that French fighter jets or helicopters intervene in over 200 similar incidents every year.
The noise from the jet was heard around the entire city, and even several miles into its sprawling suburbs.
The boom even briefly interrupted a tennis match between Stan Wawrinka and Dominik Koepfer at the French Open, being held on the western edge of Paris. In a near-empty stadium — because of restrictions tied to the coronavirus pandemic — both men stopped playing and looked toward the sky, puzzled, as the noise echoed through the empty stands.
The clip, which widely circulated on social media, was eerily reminiscent of a soccer game at the Stade de France, a stadium north of the capital, in Nov. 2015 when a loud explosive noise was heard.
In that instance, however, the threat was real. The source of the noise was a suicide bomber who had detonated an explosive vest just outside the stadium as the first in a series of deadly attacks in and around Paris that ultimately left more than 100 dead.
Elian Peltier contributed reporting.