By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Air National Guard F-16 fighter plane crashed near Washington on Wednesday during a training mission, and the pilot ejected safely after steering the plummeting aircraft away from houses, a military official said.
The pilot, who escaped with minor injuries, reported mechanical trouble during the training mission in the plane, which was built in 1986 or 1987, Air National Guard Brigadier General George Degnon said. There were no injuries on the ground or damage to buildings.
Degnon said the District of Columbia Air National Guard plane was training with three other National Guard aircraft when the pilot experienced trouble shortly after takeoff and turned around.
The plane went down about 9:15 a.m. some 12 miles south of the U.S. capital after the pilot realized he could not land safely, Degnon told a news conference at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, where the aircraft had taken off.
"He made the decision to maneuver to a wooded area to avoid the risk to the local community and ensure public safety before initiating ejection," Degnon said.
The pilot, who was not identified, was treated and released at a hospital. Degnon said the cause of the crash was under investigation.
Local television showed video images of the pilot drifting to a field under a parachute while a cloud of black smoke rose from the burning plane. Firefighters were called to put out the blaze.
A witness, Kent Roberson, told Washington's NBC television affiliate that he heard a loud boom when the plane went down. "Like how a large tree falls and shakes the ground," he said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Ian Simpson; Editing by Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)