On 6 September 2016, shortly after midnight, the two men were scheduled to pilot the tanker 'Aframax River' at the Houston Ship Channel, when the vessel experienced a mechanical failure and loss of control, which caused the ship to strike two mooring dolphins. The made a fuel tank to release 88,000 gallons diesel fuel that quickly ignited.

Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were surrounded by a towering wall of burning fuel as the raging fire quickly spread across the channel, threatening other tank ships and nearby waterfront facilities. Both pilots remained at their stations on the bridge of the ship during the fire. Captain McGee managed to manoeuvre the stricken and blazing vessel away from surrounding ships and facilities. Captain Phillips coordinated communications and firefighting efforts with the USCG and numerous local fireboats. Captain Phillips rushed to grab a fire extinguisher and put out a fire raging on the port bridge wing.

The inferno was finally extinguished after 90 minutes, leaving both pilots exhausted and suffering minor burns. Captain McGee, using tugs, was then able to bring the damaged tanker safely to a mooring facility.