WASHINGTON — On April 5, a D.C. Air National Guard pilot averted a fighter jet from crashing into several homes in a southern Prince George’s County neighborhood.
Capt. Jonathan Morgan took off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for a training exercise, but he didn’t expect the flight to last only 4 minutes because of an unforeseen engine issue.
A lot of things had to happen right and go right for me to be on the ground safely and for everyone not to be hurt on the ground,” Morgan said.
Morgan managed to steer the F-16C away from nearby homes and crash the jet in a wooded area, doing damage only to the plane.
For his quick, on-the-spot thinking, Morgan was awarded the Brigadier General Howard W. Kacy Flying Safety Award Sunday during D.C. National Guard’s awards ceremony. He was also surprised with a Meritorious Service Medal — an honor he was not expecting.
Morgan said he simply followed the critical action procedures with which everyone is trained.
“Basically, that’s what I’ve been trained to do for the past four years,” Morgan said.
Terry Jones also is a member of D.C.’s National Guard and felt compelled to meet, thank and embrace Morgan.
She lives on a dead end street near where Morgan landed the fighter jet. Morgan saved her home — and that neighborhood — from what could have been major damage.
“I felt very proud that … it was one of our pilots that made that miraculous landing and didn’t get hurt,” Jones said. “It could’ve gone so much worse, but I was really proud to hear how he saved that day.”
Gen. Jeffrey Bozard, 113th Wing Commander, said that Morgan, as the youngest pilot in the squad, was technically dealing with three emergencies during his 4-minute flight. He said the throttle didn’t work, the jet caught on fire and the engine quit.
“You don’t have enough time to run through all those checklists,” Bozard said. “It’s a testament to how well we keep them trained, that the youngest pilot could have this terrible emergency and still be able to handle it that well.”
Bozard said the first thing Morgan was taught to do is to drop the external fuel tanks but he waited and that saved lives.
“If he’d had done that instantly as the checklist says he’d dropped them right on downtown. So he did delay it just a hair to save a whole bunch of people in town,” Bozard said.
Morgan said it was surreal at the point when he had to eject and tried guiding the aircraft into a wooded area not knowing how things would turn out. Next thing he knows he’s in the hospital with his wife who share the good news.
“She told me that everyone on the ground was safe was my moment of relief.”
Morgan said to find out that no one was injured was like a blessing.
“It was a giant sense of relief — a burden, a weight lifted off your shoulders.”
Morgan said that while it was honor to be recognized Sunday, “it’s not just about me.”
From the crew that was with him in flight, to the crew on the ground receiving him, Morgan said the entire process was a team effort.
An investigation into the crash shows that was a problem with how the engine was installed which brought the jet down.
WTOP’s John Domen contributed to this report.