Beaufort’s Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) commanding officer Col. Mark D. Bortnem made a statement Tuesday afternoon about the F-35B Lightning II fighter jet “mishap” that forced a Beaufort-based pilot to eject, sending the plane crashing into a wooded area of Williamsburg County, SC.
“The pilot ejected around 13:30 (1:30 p.m) Sunday and since that happened, we’ve been working constantly in a 24/7 evolution here at the air base to focus on the recovery of the pilot and also the recovery of the aircraft,” Bortnem told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Bortnem said MCAS Beaufort will lead the investigation of the incident.
The pilot landed safely in a North Charleston neighborhood near Joint Base Charleston and was taken to a local medical center for treatment. The elusive downed fighter jet was found around 6 p.m. Monday in rural Williamsburg County, according to reporting from the Post and Courier.
“Thankfully, the (F-35B) has a really good safety record, and we saw that experience itself last Sunday,” Bortnem said, adding that pilots at MCAS Beaufort had been flying the model for a decade.
“Now the investigation starts,” Bortnem said. That process starts at the crash site but will also involve conversations with the pilot, he said. The full investigation could take several months.
Bortnem advised locals to avoid the vicinity of the crash site, including flying drones in the surrounding airspace.
“And that’s for two reasons: for their safety, and also so we don’t compromise the integrity of that investigative process and of the crash site itself,” Bortnem said.
A squadron at MCAS Yuma received one of the first deliveries of F-35B fighter jets in 2012. Each plane costs about $135 million, according to figures from the Department of Defense.