Military: Pilot ditched plane in woods to miss nearby homes

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

The F-16C 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 (5 kilometers) southwest of Joint Base Andrews.

The pilot was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital, said Lt. Col. Michael Corker, the pilot's commanding officer. No one else was injured.

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.

Some residents in the area told reporters that they heard what sounded like gunfire after the crash.

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.

The cause of the crash is being investigated.

About 20 homes in the area of the crash were evacuated as a precaution because of the possibility that the crash released hazardous materials, Prince George's County Fire and EMS spokesman Mark Brady said. Residents were later allowed to return home.

Crystal Hollingsworth, who lives near the crash site and had to evacuate, said she heard a "huge crash" followed by the sound of "live rounds."

Crystal Hollingsworth's husband, Tony Hollingsworth, said the "house shook" and he also heard the sound of gunshots in the woods, something that "sounded like a shootout." He said it lasted for "10 to 15 minutes."

Crystal Hollingsworth said pieces of the plane fell in her neighbor's yard, damaging some of the home's siding. She said there were probably more than a dozen metal fragments, maybe about half an inch thick. Pieces from the crash ranged in size, some about the size of a TV remote or a book. She said one was marked "confidential." Some of the debris was still burning when she saw it.

Acting Fire Chief Ben Barksdale said pieces of the plane were burning when crews arrived and firefighters used water and foam to extinguish them. The fuselage of the plane and one wing were intact at the crash scene. The wreckage was spread around a radius of roughly 40 yards, but debris was also found in other areas, a possible sign that it came off before impact, Brady said.

"Very fortunate that we didn't have any lives lost today," Barksdale said.

Brady said he tweeted pictures from the crash scene from his official account but then was asked by military police on the scene to delete those images. The military did not explain why it did not want the images to be published, he said. He deleted the images about 20 minutes after posting them.

"I simply was complying with the request from the military," he said.