WASHINGTON – An F-16 fighter jet that was on a training mission crashed Wednesday morning in Maryland. The pilot parachuted to safety, authorities said.
Officials for Joint Base Andrews said in a statement that the plane was an F-16C fighter jet from the Air National Guard’s 113th Wing. The crash happened around 9:15 a.m., about six miles southwest of the base. The 113th Wing has its headquarters at the base.
“The aircraft was flying along with other DCANG [D.C. Air National Guard] aircraft in a routine training mission in the greater washington area. The aircraft carried only the pilot,” Andrews base said in a statement. They also said “the pilot ejected and sustained non-life threatening injuries.”
Many area residents said they heard the sound of fighter jets as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday, but since they are so close to the military base, they said they are used to hearing such sounds.
But a couple of hours later, some reported hearing a loud bang. Some worried it was a bomb. Many saw smoke and flames, but couldn’t see exactly where the plane had crashed. Officials later said the plane crashed about 200 yards from any homes in the area.
Patrick Dodson, who lives nearby, told NBC 4 that he heard a whooping noise and looked up from his porch.
“The jet was already on fire,” Dodson said. “I screamed into the house, ‘Get out of the house!'”
“I thought the plane was coming here,” he said. He saw the pilot parachute out of the plane, Dodson said. “He was coasting in the wind with the parachute,” Dodson said. “Things were falling down [probably debris].”
“I waited for all the things to fall down,” he said. “It sounded like gunfire going off, through the trees.” And then he said he ran about a mile and reached the pilot in the woods near a fire.
“When I get there, he [the pilot] was standing on his two feet and wrapping his parachute up,” Dodson said. “I said, ‘Are you okay?'”
Dodson said the pilot asked if everyone in the neighborhood was okay.
“He said he tried to direct the plane away,” from the houses in the area, Dodson said.
Dodson said he asked the pilot if he was carrying live rounds, and he nodded yes.
The crash could be seen from as far away as the Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria, Virginia. One rider – Ben Huber who works at the Pentagon – said he was standing on the platform just after 9 a.m. when “the sky filled with a roar.” “I thought it might be a passenger plane taking off but it was way louder,” Huber said.
Officials with the Prince George’s County Fire Department said on their Twitter feed that they were deleting “any video and pictures posted” on social media of the crash area per the request of military police who are on the scene. The military is the lead investigator of the incident.
Mark Brady, a spokesman with the Prince George’s Fire Department, told Washington’s NBC 4 in an interview that he did not know if the plane was inbound or outbound to the base.
Brady said the plane crashed in the 4700 block of Woodells Way and about 20 homes in the immediate area were evacuated. No one in the homes was injured but some of the houses had damage and there were some small brush fires.
Prince George’s County Fire chief Ben Barksdale said parts of the plane that were burning were found in the wooded areas behind the homes.
Brady said in a tweet that if anyone in the neighborhood “finds what they believe to be a part of the aircraft – do not touch/move-call” authorities.
Some homes in the area were evacuated for several hours out of an abundance of caution. There is concern of hazardous materials, Brady said.
Those who were evacuated were sent to Clinton Grove Elementary School on Temple Hills Road.
The Air Force said the plane went down in an unpopulated area, but photos and videos taken at the crash show it went down in a wooded area a few hundred yards from houses in Prince George’s County.
Officials said the crash site itself is about 40 yards long and 40 yards wide and sits between two residential communities at the end of a cul-de-sac that is mostly open space and woods. The crash site sits about a mile from Mount Enon Baptist Church along Piscataway Road.
The crash near a residential neighborhood raised concerns among some on the ground that people could have been hurt.
“We are very fortunate that we didn’t have any lives lost today,” Barksdale said.
In 2014, a small jet plane coming from North Carolina crashed into a house in Gaithersburg, Maryland, killing six.
Brady said the pilot was “picked up by a military helicopter” and transported to an area hospital. The pilot, Brady said, was “located nearby but not in the immediate area of the crash.”
Brady said it is not clear what the aircraft crashed into. He said he could “not confirm if [the aircraft] hit anything on the ground.”
Jeff Lee, who said he was at a nearby market when the plane crashed, told NBC 4 that “all of a sudden he saw a parachute go out and a plane dive.”
“It went straight down,” he said. He said he couldn’t see where it landed.
By midday, area streets were closed, and fire engines and military vehicles sped through the roads. Residents who had been evacuated waited to get back to their homes. Some parents wanted to get their children from a nearby elementary school.
Frederick Simms, who lives near the field adjacent to the crash, said he is used to hearing the sound of jets and planes overhead being next to the base, but the noises from this morning were “too loud.”
“I just heard a rumbling sound and the wall shaking,” Simms said. “I thought, ‘Get up!’
The retiree said he immediately popped out of bed, and minutes later saw news of the crash on the television.
“I ran the heck out,” of the house, Simms said, as he waited at a nearby farm stand.
The F-16 has been flown by the U.S. military since the 1970s, and is used to fly combat missions over the Middle East. Formally known as the Fighting Falcon, it is referred to as the Viper by pilots.
The 113th Wing, known as the “Capital Guardians,” flies the F-16C variant of the plane, and provides fighters in defense of Washington when needed. Senior U.S. officials authorized pilots from the wing to shoot down aircraft, if necessary, after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. F-16s from the wing’s 121st Fighter Squadron intercepted a Cessna aircraft within a few miles of the White House in 2005.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Dana Hedgpeth, Dan Lamothe