Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 20 at 1:15 p.m. with additional information from the Air Force.
An Air Force pilot safely ejected from a F-35A Lightning II fighter jet that crashed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on Wednesday evening.
The airman was treated at a local hospital and has since been released, 388th Fighter Wing spokesperson Micah Garbarino told Air Force Times Thursday.
“The pilot was returning to Hill AFB from a routine training mission when the crash occurred,” Garbarino said. “The crash recovery/site investigation is still ongoing, but it appears there was no other damage.”
The pilot landed near local resident Brock Thurgood’s off-base property after he ejected from the stealth jet, according to one Salt Lake City news outlet.
Thurgood told KSL.com that the pilot was “walking and he was coherent,” but that his hands were “bloodied up and he was a little banged up.”
“I don’t know how I’d be after I was in a plane crash, but he was surprisingly tough,” Thurgood said.
Photos and videos posted to social media show a massive ground fire and billowing smoke where the plane went down near the north end of Hill’s runway. The blaze spanned about 10 acres but was suppressed, Utah authorities said.
“Right now, we’re very thankful there were no serious injuries,” 388th Fighter Wing commander Col. Craig Andrle said in a release Thursday. “Our pilot is safe, everyone on the ground is safe and it doesn’t look like there was any other serious damage.”
Hill has indefinitely canceled its flying operations. Five other F-35s from the 388th were diverted to Salt Lake City International Airport and will return to base soon, Garbarino said.
Base officials have asked the public to contact the base at 801-777-0991 or firstname.lastname@example.org with eyewitness accounts of the accident, or if people have found anything that could be related to the crash.
“The hotline was established because the crash site was fairly close to a residential area, and in the early stages it wasn’t exactly clear if any of the crash site or wreckage was off-base,” Garbarino said.
Air Force officials did not immediately answer Thursday morning whether the service has paused F-35A flight operations or if it is looking into any issues of potential concern for its most advanced fighter fleet.
It’s rare for F-35As to be destroyed in accidents. Just one of the Air Force variant has been totaled so far, in fiscal 2020, according to Air Force Safety Center data.
The Air Force plans to grow from about 375 to 432 F-35As in 2023, stationed at several bases in the U.S. and overseas. Each A-model costs about $78 million.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.