First F-35 fighter jet crash: Mystery fault forces pilot to eject over South Carolina

A US military fighter jet sent smoke billowing into the sky after it suffered the first crash in the aircraft’s operational history.

The pilot, who was the only person on board the Lockheed Martin F-35B, was being examined for injuries on Friday after safely ejecting.

The reason for the crash near the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina, is said to be under investigation.

The aircraft, a short takeoff and landing version of the F-35, crashed just before 12pm local time.

It was the first crash of an F-35 fighter jet since the aircraft became operational in 2006, according to a military official who wished to remain anonymous.

The incident also marked the first time a pilot had ejected from an F-35B.

The F-35B stealth fighter jet was used by the United States in combat this week for the first time against the Taliban in Afghanistan, after taking off from an amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea.

Smoke rises at the site of a F-35 fighter jet crash in Beaufort, South Carolina (Reuters)

Israel became the first country to use the jet in combat in May.

The crash coincided with the Pentagon announcing an $11.5bn (£8.8bn) contract for 141 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed, which lowers the price for the most common version of the aircraft by 5.4 per cent.

The plane involved in the South Carolina crash was one of 245 F-35 fighter jets in the US military, a Pentagon official said, and one of a total of 320 F-35 jets being flown around the world.

Under the new contract signed on Friday, the next deliveries of F-35B jets will cost about $115m each, military officials told Reuters.

The F-35B is the most expensive of three variants of the F-35, which also include the F-35A, a conventional takeoff and landing version, and the F-35C, used aboard aircraft carriers.

Lockheed is the number one US defence contractor.

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