WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A man who lives in rural South Carolina said he heard what we now know was the crash of an unmanned military jet – but at the time, he had no idea it was a downed aircraft not far from his home.
Randolph White, 72, retired from his job at the paper mill in Georgetown 10 years ago; he and his wife live in a very rural area of Williamsburg County.
While he said it’s typically quiet and peaceful where he lives, Sunday afternoon was anything but.
“I was in the bathroom, taking a shave, and I heard a screeching. Between a screech and a whistle. I said, what in the world is this? And I heard a boom! Then my whole house shook,” he recalled.
White said he did not realize it was a plane at the time, so he did not call anyone.
“The first thought that came to me… I said well, did a meteorite come from outer space or something? And I said, well if it was an airplane it needs to be reported because that thing was flying just too low. I didn’t give it any other thought. I knew it was low because my house is pretty solid, and it shook,” White said.
The next night, as authorities searched for the F-35 — which disappeared after its pilot safely ejected and landed in the backyard of a home — White said he saw helicopters flying around, but thought they were searching for something else.
“Somebody must have robbed a bank,” he thought. “Killed some people or whatever. So, I walked up there, and they told me it was about the plane.”
The F-35B airplane wreckage created an extensive debris field off of nearby Old Georgetown Road, roughly 60 miles from where the pilot had ejected. Military security there is tight, with numerous red and white signs on the side of the road that read “No Trespassing. This area has been designated a National Defense Area.”
“Just through the grace of God, nobody didn’t get hurt,” said White. “Because there’s a church right up there, about a half mile.”
About a mile stretch of Old Georgetown Road will be closed for a period while crews recover the wreckage.
The pilot, who has not been identified, was found on South Kenwood Drive in North Charleston and taken to a local hospital for treatment. He “experienced a malfunction and was forced to eject” just 1 mile north of Charleston International Airport, according to a situation report given to the Associated Press by a U.S. Marine Corps official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the investigation.
There is no clear reason for the incident; officials with Joint Base Charleston are calling it a “mishap.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.