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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The pilot who crashed Wednesday in an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet at Hill Air Force Base was released from the hospital after being taken there for observation, authorities said.
"Right now, we're very thankful there were no serious injuries," said Col. Craig Andrle, 388th Fighter Wing commander, in an update on Thursday. "Our pilot is safe, everyone on the ground is safe and it doesn't look like there was any other serious damage. We're very thankful for our emergency responders and the support from the local communities."
The pilot ejected from the jet before it crashed at the north end of the runway about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Brock Thurgood, who owns property in South Weber near the base, said the pilot landed near his property after ejecting. Thurgood said he heard a loud boom and saw smoke, so he got on an all-terrain vehicle to investigate, along with his daughter and two other nearby residents.
"We went up there and as we're driving down the Canal Road ... looking for a way to get up there, we looked over and saw him," Thurgood said. "He was waving his arms and yelling and walking down towards us and it was the pilot. I don't really think there's much to say other than that he's OK, and that's the most important part."
Thurgood said the pilot was in fairly good shape, and although "his hands were bloodied up and he was a little banged up, he was walking and he was coherent."
"I don't know how I'd be after I was in a plane crash but he was surprisingly tough," Thurgood said. "Also, he just seemed like a really good person even having just been through something that was probably crazy to him."
Thurgood said they sat with the pilot until first responders arrived, and helped them navigate the terrain to reach him. All things considered, he said he was impressed that the pilot managed to avoid hitting any of the houses in the area.
"He did a dang good job," Thurgood said. "He got it away from homes, he got it away from people. He was a stud. I just feel like he did a really good job and he was really lucky."
"I do know that the pilot made his best effort to avoid any buildings or anything on the ground prior to ejection, and that resulted in no injuries to anyone on the ground," Andrle said Wednesday.
Mitt Nilson, 13, also lives near the crash site and said he was riding his dirtbike and witnessed the entire crash. He said it started when he noticed smoke coming from the engine of the F-35 above him.
"I heard this weird noise so I looked up, I looked around and I saw this plane with just smoke pouring out of it," Mitt said.
I heard this weird noise so I looked up, I looked around and I saw this plane with just smoke pouring out of it.
Mitt said he saw the pilot land in a tree on a nearby property, seconds before the plane went down. He said he saw "parts flying everywhere, parts of the wings, parts of the cockpit and then just fire." He said he was glad to hear the pilot survived.
"I'm just really grateful that they actually have the guts to go and do that," Mitt said.
Utah Fire Info tweeted that the downed military aircraft sparked an 8- to 10-acre fire on Defense Department land. Crews from surrounding communities contained the blaze, Hill Air Force Base officials said.
Five F-35s from the 388th Fighter Wing were diverted to Salt Lake City International Airport and will return to the base on Thursday, according to the Hill Air Force Base statement. Other local flying at Hill Air Force Base was canceled Thursday, and authorities have not yet decided when to resume local flying.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation on Thursday. "Air Force mishaps are investigated by a board of officers, and an interim safety board has been established," officials said.
After word of the crash spread Wednesday, Gov. Spencer Cox said he was praying for the safety of the pilot and first responders, and that his office was monitoring the situation.
Eyewitnesses to the crash or those who have found anything that may be related are asked to call 801-777-0911 or email email@example.com and include their name, address, phone number and any relevant details.