Marine Corps F-35B Crashes in South Carolina, Pilot Ejected Safely

An F-35B Lighting II aircraft prepares to land during a training exercise with Airborne Tactical Advantage Company aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, April 14, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/ Lance Cpl. Ashley Phillips)
An F-35B Lighting II aircraft prepares to land during a training exercise with Airborne Tactical Advantage Company aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, April 14, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/ Lance Cpl. Ashley Phillips)

Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Jet crashed near Beaufort, South Carolina, on Friday morning. The pilot, who was able to eject, is being treated at a local medical facility, according to military and law enforcement officials.

The military fighter jet crashed at about 11:45 a.m. Friday, roughly 5 miles from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. The aircraft is assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501.

This marks the first crash for the Marine Corps' variant of the F-35B, which is designed to operate from ships with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The pilot was the only person aboard the single-seat aircraft, according to Marine Corps officials. He is being evaluated by medical personnel, Beaufort County Sheriff P. J. Tanner said in a Friday afternoon press conference.

There were no other reports of injuries or structural damage as a result of the crash, Tanner said.

Beaufort personnel are working with local law enforcement to secure the crash site and ensure the safety of others in the area. Photos of the crash site on social media show thick black smoke rising near a body of water. Tanner said people should continue to steer clear of the area.

Pilots assigned to VMFAT-501 at Beaufort fly the F-35B. Those Marines join operational F-35B squadrons once they complete their training.

That squadron has had at least one mishap involving the F-35B. In 2016, an F-35B's weapons bay caught fire mid-flight -- a defect Pentagon officials knew the aircraft had and were working to address. That aircraft landed safely, and there were no injuries reported.

The Navy and Air Force have also reported F-35 mishaps. Just this week, a Navy F-35C assigned to the California-based Strike Fighter Squadron 125 made an unexpected landing at Fresno Yosemite International Airport after an indicator light lit up. No injuries were reported.

Last month, an F-35 with that same squadron was damaged during an aerial refueling exercise along with an F/A-18F Super Hornet.

That same day, two Air Force F-35As experienced mishaps in Florida. One stealth fighter suffered a nose-gear malfunction and another struck a bird.

The Marine Corps variant of the F-35B just carried out its first-ever combat mission in the Middle East this week, striking a Taliban target while flying off the amphibious assault ship USS Essex.

This story is developing and will be updated as new information is available.

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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