Witnesses react to plane crash, debris lands in yards

At first, one woman thought she was watching a practice drill.

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD (WUSA9) - Many people heard the fighter jet crash, but a few saw it. 

One woman who was driving toward her parent's house in Clinton, Md. saw the pilot parachuting and watched the F-16 tip nose-up and head straight for her parents' neighborhood. 

Shaun Brown first thought she was watching a practice drill.

RELATED: Military says mechanical failure likely cause of F-16 crash

"I looked up and saw the parachute. Someone's like, 'Oh, this is amazing day to parachute.' So I take out my phone and I look up and there's an F-16, nose up. And literally falls right in the back yard. There's a bit ball of flame and smoke. I immediately put on my hazards and just drove, because I just knew my parents were gone. There was any doubt in my mind that that plane hit my parents' house," said Brown. 

Shaun soon discovered her parents were OK. Her mom wasn't even home, but her dad, a former marine, was home and the explosions from the jet make him think we were under attack.

"I heard a lot of ammo going off. And the first thing I think, being ex-military and all, I think, 'we fighting already?'" John Brown said. 

RELATED: What happens when a pilot ejects? 

"I'm just glad everyone's okay. The pilot had to be very experienced to be able to safely eject and and safely get out," said Shaun Brown, her voice cracking.  

Down the street from the Brown's home, Tricia Cheeks and her mom ran for their lives.

"I could hear the howling of the plane coming down and I go, 'we gotta go, we gotta go! This one's coming down!' So I grabbed her, she fell on the floor, I tried to get her up. And then we were running out the door. When I came out, and I could see the parachute right over there. And he was coming down," described Cheeks.  

The woods where the plane crash erupted into flames. Emergency crews could be seen in the distance combing through the debris.

Neighbors counted their blessings.  

"I'm thanking God to be alive, because it could've landed on our house," said Cheeks.

Parents of nearby Clinton Grove Elementary are also thankful. 

"We're very thankful. The parents here, the community here.  The school.  We're all thankful," said Shaun Brown.

Many neighbors in that community took cell phone pictures and video. But they say there were told to delete it and had help doing so by military personal assigned to patrol the edge of the woods while crews dealt with the jet's debris.  

Members of the Air Force continued to retrieve small pieces of the fighter jet into Tuesday afternoon, with teams emerging from the woods near Dee Lumpkins’ home.

In an interview Wednesday, Lumpkins described the moment she saw the impact from her back deck.

“I saw this terrible, large, humongous fireball in the woods,” Lumpkins said. “When the fireball came into view, it was like a flash and a big, blast outward.”

The 26-year veteran of the Air Force watched the flames from the explosion recede as the thick plume of smoke rose into the sky. Within 15 minutes, a Prince George’s firefighter was at her front door, ordering her to evacuate.

“The amazing thing about this whole experience was the fast response,” Lumpkins said. “And with all the things going on in America today, you could see this is still a great country, and a great people.”

“I looked out and saw smoke and fire and then I saw the pilot had ejected, his parachute was out,” said John Brown. “I got a call from my neighbors saying a plane hit my house,” added Reggie Stewart. 

RELATED: Pilot 'did all he could' before plane crashed near Joint Base Andrews

“There was a piece of what he assumed was piece of the plane in the backyard and it was smoking,” described Nicole Robinson. 

These neighbors all had a story to tell and had proof to back it up with pictures of plane debris in their backyards. 

“I was actually trying to do some work in the backyard and I thank God I didn’t because some of my neighbors have debris and fire in their backyard,” explained Brown.

Reggie Stewart wasn’t home at the time of the call, so he raced back to learn it was only pieces of the plane that struck his home. He had damage to the patio, roof, a broken window and water damage when his sprinkler system activated.  

RELATED: Children caught in chaos following plane crash in Clinton

“Now I’ll be hyper aware and make sure nothing is falling out of the sky,” said Robinson. 

But Brown said it doesn’t change anything.

“No, Miss, I’m in the land of the living. I thank God for my family and the pilot and everybody is safe.” 

Neighbors later said they were given orders by an armed soldier guarding the crash site to delete their video and pictures of the debris from their phones. 

WUSA9 called Joint Base Andrews and a spokesperson denies that every came from them. We have reports of debris as far away as National Harbor. 

Anyone who spots debris should not touch or move it, rather call Joint Base Andrews at 240-612-4428 or 240-612-4430.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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