(Reuters) - A U.S. military jet crashed in a Southern California desert town on Wednesday, damaging homes, according to military officials and local media.
An AV-8B Harrier jet from the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, crashed at about 4:20 p.m. local time in Imperial, California, said Corporal Melissa Lee of the San-Diego based Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
As of Wednesday night, eight homes were evacuated, but no injuries had been reported, the Miramar air station said in a statement. The pilot of the downed plane ejected safely and was transported to a hospital for evaluation, Lee said.
She said that civilian homes were damaged by the crash, adding that an investigation was being conducted to uncover the cause of the crash. Local television reports showed images of at least one house engulfed in flames and billows of black smoke reaching into the sky.
“I heard a large explosion, and it felt like an earthquake,” Patricia Roblas, a resident near the crash site, told NBC 7 San Diego.
“It was really scary. After they put the fires out, a few minutes later, we saw another huge fire so we didn’t know if there was an explosion because of gas or what.”
Imperial is a city of nearly 16,000 people that sits about 100 miles (160 km) east of San Diego and only a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
In May, a AV-8B harrier stationed at the same Yuma airbase crashed in a remote desert area on the Gila River Indian Community outside of Phoenix, The Arizona Republic reported. The paper reported that the pilot suffered only a minor injury to his nose, and no community members were hurt.
The Harrier jet was the first in the U.S. Marine arsenal capable of vertical or short distance takeoff and landing, and is equipped with thrusters that allow the plane to “hover like a helicopter,” according to the Marine’s website.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry