The United States military said it has finally found debris from a missing F-35 fighter jet a day after asking for the public’s help in locating wreckage from the elusive warplane after a pilot ejected from the aircraft for unknown reasons.
The debris field from the F-35B Lightning II jet that went missing on Sunday afternoon was located on Monday in South Carolina’s rural Williamsburg County, according to the Marine Corps’s Joint Base Charleston.
“Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and @MCASBeaufortSC, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County. The debris was discovered two hours northeast of JB Charleston,” the base said on social media, while also thanking local, county and state officials for their help in the hunt for the missing stealth fighter plane.
The debris was located about two hours northeast of the Marine base and local residents were being asked to stay clear of the site.
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“Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field. We are transferring incident command to the USMC [US Marine Corps] this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” the base said.
Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field. We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process.
— Joint Base Charleston (@TeamCharleston) September 18, 2023
Authorities had been searching for the jet since the pilot, whose name has not been released, parachuted to safety into a North Charleston neighbourhood at about 2pm (18:00 GMT) on Sunday and the aircraft continued flying in what some called a “zombie state”.
The pilot was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition, the Marines said.
Military officials later appealed in online posts for any help from the public in locating the aircraft, which cost approximately $80m. The request spurred an avalanche of jokes and memes on social media from people incredulous that the US military could lose such an advanced warplane.
The US military is searching for a missing F-35B in South Carolina after the pilot ejected yesterday and the jet kept flying. If you have seen an F-35 in the woods, please contact the US Marines. pic.twitter.com/rpueqxuP0J
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 18, 2023
All Marine Corps aviation units were also ordered on Monday to pause operations for two days.
General Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the stand-down during which commanders will reinforce safe flying policies, practices and procedures with their Marines.
The loss of the F-35 was the third event documented as a “Class-A mishap” over the past six weeks, according to a Marine Corps announcement. Such incidents involve damages that reach a cost of $2.5m or more, when a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or someone dies or is permanently disabled.
No details were provided on the two previous incidents. But in August, three US Marines were killed in the crash of a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft during a training exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his combat jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Exactly what happened that caused the loss of the F-35 is under investigation. A pilot in a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Beaufort, near the South Carolina coast.
A key advantage of the F-35, according to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, is its near impossibility to be tracked by radar and its advanced sensors and other equipment.