Pilot ditched F-16 jet in woods to miss homes in Maryland neighborhood, military says

A fighter pilot on a training mission ditched his jet in a wooded area of a suburban Washington neighborhood early Wednesday so that the plane would avoid crashing into a suburban Washington neighborhood, military officials said.

The F-16C, which military officials said was at least 30 years old and worth $20 million, went down about 200 yards behind a small subdivision of two-story brick homes in the middle-class suburban community of Clinton, about 3 miles southwest of Joint Base Andrews.

The pilot was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital, Lt. Col. Michael Corker, the pilot's commanding officer, said at a press conference.

The pilot, whose name was not released, is with the District of Columbia Air National Guard and was flying one of four fighter jets from Maryland to a shooting range in Pennsylvania for a training exercise when the crash happened.

Military officials said the plane was armed with "training rounds," which are real bullets that lack the armor-piercing and explosive capabilities of rounds used in combat. Officials said the crash and subsequent fire might have caused some of those rounds to go off.

"Some of the loud noises may have been those rounds," said Lt. Col. Lisa Mabbutt, the base's acting director of emergency management.

US Air Force officials told Fox News that an F-16 from D.C. Air National Guard went down around 9:15 a.m. south of National Harbor in Maryland near Andrews Air Force Base.

In a statement, D.C. Air National Guard officials said the aircraft was flying along a second jet in a “routine training mission” around the greater Washington area.

Prince George's County fire department spokesman Mark Brady told WRC-TV that one pilot parachuted out of the aircraft and was picked up by a military helicopter.

A witness told Fox 5 DC/WTTG that he was sitting on his porch when he heard a loud explosion. He said the jet was on fire and he saw the pilot eject.

“It was the biggest fire ball I’ve ever seen in my life,” Patrick Dotson said.

He said he ran into the woods after the plane crashed and saw the pilot standing up. Dotson said the pilot asked if the neighborhood was OK because he had live rounds on board.

Since 9/11, there is always at least one F-16 on eight minute alert status to take off in the case of emergency.

Wednesday's incident marked the sixth U.S. military non-combat aviation crashes since January 2017. The most recent was on Mar. 14 when three service members assigned to a special operations unit were killed after a single-engine reconnaissance and surveillance plane crashed in eastern New Mexico during a training flight, the Air Force said.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.