Neighbors near site of F-35 jet crash say they feel ‘blessed’

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 4:56 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 10:13 PM EDT
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WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Scattered debris from the crash of a Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort F-35 jet has those who live near the debris field in rural Williamsburg County feeling fortunate.

Marine Corps officials said a pilot ejected from that F-35 Sunday afternoon into City of Charleston Airport Space after what Joint Base Charleston officials describe as a “mishap.”

After a search of more than 24 hours, crews found a debris field near Old Georgetown Road. Officials have not said when the plane went down, but Col. Mark Bortnem, the commanding officer of MCAS Beaufort, said during a media briefing on Tuesday that the pilot of the aircraft ejected at approximately 1:30 p.m. The North Charleston Police Department responded approximately 15 minutes later to a home where the ejected pilot landed in someone’s backyard.

READ MORE: New details emerge slowly after crash of F-35 jet

It was a regular Sunday afternoon for Williamsburg County resident Laura McKenzie.

McKenzie said their family was hosting a birthday party for her daughter. When they heard a loud boom at around 3 p.m., everyone jumped and rushed around to look outside. She said there was a slight smell of smoke in the air but they didn’t see anything, so they assumed it was just a loud lightning strike. It wasn’t until the next day, she learned what actually happened.

“We’re blessed, it could have been so much worse for us and everyone that lives around us. It’s scary but it’s so freak, it almost feels unreal,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie wasn’t the only Williamsburg County neighborhood that said they heard the crash on Sunday. Randolph White said he was brushing his teeth on Sunday afternoon when he heard a loud screeching noise, followed by a boom.

“It’s by the grace of god the plane didn’t hit my house because it was so close my house shook,” White said.

He said he’s feeling blessed the plane didn’t hit any of the three small towns in the area.

“Whoever is responsible needs to be held accountable, because it shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen,” White said.

READ MORE: Debris field found in search for F-35 jet in Williamsburg County

During a media briefing on Tuesday, Bortnem said they’ve been flying planes in the area for over ten years and praised the safety record of the aircraft.

He said the investigation into the crash will take months.