Debris of missing ‘lethal’ F-35 fighter jet found - after ‘mishap’ caused Marine pilot to eject
The US military appealed to the public to help find the jet - which is one of the “most advanced in the world”
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The authorities confirmed that the wreckage of the $100m (£80m) jet was discovered in rural Williamsburg County.
The F-35B Lightning II jet was travelling over North Charleston on Sunday afternoon (17 September) at around 2pm when the “mishap” occurred and a Marine Corps pilot safely parachuted to safety.
The pilot, whose name has not been released, was taken to a local hospital where he was in a stable condition, said Major Melanie Salinas, a military spokesperson.
The search for the missing aircraft was focused on two lakes north of North Charleston which are Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, according to Senior Master Sergeant Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston.
Stanton added that a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter had joined the search for the F-35 after some bad weather cleared in the area.
US military officials appealed to the public to help locate the jet after it lost track of the aircraft somewhere over South Carolina when the pilot ejected.
In a statement on Monday (18 September), military officials said the debris was found “two hours north-east of Joint Base Charleston”. The public has been asked to keep away from the area to allow investigators to do their work.
A spokesman at Joint Base Charleston told NBC News that the fighter jet was left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected which meant that the aircraft may have been airborne for some time - making its discovery more difficult.
On Monday, the US Marine Corps announced a two-day pause in air operations throughout the military branch this week following the incidents. A Marine Corps press release on Monday said officials plan to “discuss aviation safety matters and best practices” sometime this week.
It said the missing jet amounted to the third “Class-A mishap” in the past six weeks - a category of incident that causes more than $2.5m in damage.
Local congresswoman Nancy Mace posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “How in the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”
The authorities said that the pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston and the reason as to why the other pilot ejected is still being investigated.
Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston, said, according to The Washington Post, that the jet’s transponder, which usually helps locate the aircraft, was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined”.
He said that the aircraft is “stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect”, adding “so that’s why we put out the public request for help”.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, not far from South Carolina’s Atlantic coast.
Joint Base Charleston asked the public to "cooperate with military and civilian authorities" as the effort to locate the jet continued.
It added: "If you have any information that would assist the recovery teams, please call the JB Charleston Base Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600."
Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin describes the F-35 series on its website as the "Most Advanced Fighter Jet in the World," as well as the "most lethal, stealthy and survivable aircraft".
It comes after a F-35B Lightning Jet unusually landed at Newcastle Airport last week, diverting from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth which is currently conducting its autumn deployment.
Navy Lookout, an independent Royal Navy news and analysis, posted on X that the F-35B jet was “operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth” and diverted to Newcastle Airport “due to a technical fault”.
The aircraft carrier set sail from Portsmouth last week to lead a Carrier Strike Group in the Norwegian and North Seas, working with Nato and Joint Expeditionary Force nations.