Marine pilot in stable condition after fighter jet crashes near Beaufort air station.
A U.S. pilot ejected from a multi-million dollar fighter jet that crashed on a small island just miles from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Friday morning, according to officials.
The jet, a single-seat Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II with Marine Corps training squadron VMFAT-501 — a unit known as the “Warlords” — crashed around 11:45 a.m., according to Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Christopher Harrison.
The pilot, a U.S. Marine, ejected safely, Harrison said, and was evaluated by medical personnel. There were no casualties on the ground, according to Harrison and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. The plane was not carrying any ordnance, Harrison said.
The pilot — whom the Corps, citing privacy policies, did not name — is in stable condition at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, according to an email from II Marine Expeditionary Force spokesman Maj. Jordan Cochran.
The incident — which occurred on Little Barnwell Island, about five miles from the air station — marks the first crash and ejection by an F-35, Harrison said. An F-35B is valued at $115.5 million, a figure that includes the airframe, engine and associated contractor costs, according to Harrison.
The crash comes just a day after the first combat mission by Marine Corps F-35s, one completed in the skies of Afghanistan, Harrison said.
And while this is the first time one of the jets has crashed, it’s not the first time one of the stealth aircraft, known as the joint strike fighter, has suffered a critical incident.
Kensley Crosby, of Beaufort, lives across the Whale Branch River from Little Barnwell Island and witnessed the aftermath of the incident.
“I was inside and had on the morning news when I heard an explosion,” Crosby said. “At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then I looked up and saw the smoke.”