Authorities say a U.S. Marine pilot safely ejected from a military plane that crashed in Beaufort early Friday afternoon.
According to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort an F-35B crashed around 11:45 a.m. near Little Barnwell Island. The jet was flown by a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 stationed at MCAS Beaufort.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) says the crash occurred near Grays Hill in a “rural area” near a marsh. The site is located approximately four miles from MCAS Beaufort on Geiger Boulevard.
The pilot was the sole occupant of the single-seat aircraft. MCAS Beaufort officials say he was treated for minor injuries at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and is at home recovering now.
There were no civilian injuries involved in the crash.
“Glad to hear reports that pilot ejected safely… but a reminder of the ways in which our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line daily,” Rep. Mark Sanford tweeted about the crash on Friday.
Multiple sources say this is the first crash in the jet’s history. And at $150 million, the Lightning II that crashed in Beaufort is considered the most expensive version of the aircraft.
The F-35B was first built in 2013. There were several reports that the aircraft was riddled with design flaws and some software problems.
CNN reports the variant just flew into its first airstrike mission in Afghanistan on Thursday. The Pentagon also recently announced a deal with the contractor, Lockheed Martin, to lower the cost for the next batch.
MCAS Beaufort says the cause of the “mishap” is under investigation by the Marine Corps. BCSO says they will continue to assist.
“It was a military plane, but you know the logistics and things, this is out in the county in the city of Beaufort, so there’s a unified command,” said Capt. Bob Bromage, BCSO. “The Marine Corps is looking into the cause of the crash, and of course, we are acting in support.”
Residents and visitors are still urged to avoid the Little Barnwell Island area until it is deemed safe. The Grays Hill Boat Landing remains closed for support operations.
Along with BCSO, the Beaufort Police Department, Beaufort/Port Royal and Burton fire departments, Beaufort Water Search and Rescue, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the American Red Cross responded to the crash Friday.