SEOUL  - A US military F-16 jet crashed in southern South Korea Wednesday during a training mission but its pilot ejected to safety, US authorities said. The plane crashed into a rice paddy around noon (0300 GMT) near a US air base in the western port city of Gunsan, the US military said in a statement. “The (lone) pilot safely ejected before the plane crashed. Emergency response teams are on scene at this time,” it said. There were no casualties or serious damage on the ground, a US air force spokesman said, adding details would be released later.

A local fire station officer in Seocheon county near Gunsan said previously the pilot was injured and taken away by ambulance. The officer had identified the aircraft involved as an A-10 tank buster.

The crash came as South Korean and US troops stage an annual joint military exercise, called Foal Eagle, from March 1 to April 30. It was unclear if the F-16 was involved in the drill.

North Korea habitually fiercely denounces annual joint exercises by US and South Korean troops as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington say they are merely defensive in nature.

The United States has based troops in the South since the 1950-53 war and the force currently numbers 28,500.