BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Captain Jonathan Morgan was piloting a fighter jet over Maryland when everything went wrong. But just when it looked like there was no way out, he pulled off a miracle.
In April of 2017, Morgan prevented his F-16 from crashing into several homes in a Prince George’s County neighborhood after the jet went into critical failure.
Morgan told WJZ’s Mary Bubala in an inclusive interview that his jet began to accelerate at an uncontrollable speed.
“I’m trying to figure out what is going on with my F-16,” the Washington D.C. National Guard pilot said.
At that moment, Morgan said he was six miles away from Joint Base Andrews when things got worse.
“At that point, my engine gives out on me. I inform my flight lead that my engine’s giving out and I make a left-hand turn trying to get back to Andrews Air Force Base,” he said.
His plane had no engine power and was over highly populated Old Town Alexandria. Pilot protocol called for Morgan to drop his extra fuel tanks, but he said he made the decision not to because of the area he was flying over.
In a split-second, life-saving decision, he unloaded the tanks near the Potomac River — but then, things got even worse. The back of his F-16 became fully engulfed in flames as he soars over Prince George’s County.
“I tried to find the biggest open field I can away from any houses…at about 1,500 feet above the ground, I eject,” he said.
The jet crashed into a wooded area in Clinton, Maryland, just 600 feet away from the nearest home.
Captain Morgan parachuted to the ground and radioed in.
[Reporter: You saved lives and property that day.]
“I didn’t know until I was in the hospital and my wife told me that she was informed that not one person was injured,” he said. “So up until that moment, it was just a very heavy burden that I was carrying, and when I found out, it was the biggest sigh of relief knowing that I’d be able to sleep at night knowing that no one was harmed.
[Reporter: As an F-16 pilot, you are well trained, you have skill — but at some point, it was pure instinct up there for you, wasn’t it?]
“You’re trained at such a high level that that instinct almost becomes second nature,” he said.
Morgan’s judgment also factored into his life-saving maneuvers.
“I was dealt a bad hand and I needed to make the most of it. Making the most of it means causing the least harm to people or property on the ground. Fortunately, there was that field that I was able to point the jet toward. So very thankful that that field was there.
In December, Captain Morgan was awarded the Brigadier General Howard W. Kacy Flying Safety Award along with a service medal for his quick thinking that day.