Debris field found in search for a missing F-35 stealth fighter jet

UniqueThis 10 September 18, 2023

A U.S. fighter jet’s stealth abilities appear to be working too well, as it took authorities hours to locate a debris field after an F-35 went missing when the pilot ejected because of a “mishap.”

The debris was discovered Monday evening about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston, an air base in North Charleston, officials said, without providing further details.

The base had been working with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to "locate an F-35 that was involved in a mishap" Sunday afternoon.

The pilot was able to safely eject from the aircraft, an F-35B Lightning II jet, and was taken to a local medical center in stable condition, it said in a Facebook post around 5:35 p.m. ET.

The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing — the jet belongs to one of the unit's training squadrons — confirmed Sunday's "mishap" and that "the pilot had safely ejected from the aircraft."

“The mishap is currently under investigation.” Captain Joe Leitner, the spokesperson for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said. 

The jet was in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected from the aircraft, Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston, said. Authorities believed there was a possibility that it could have remained airborne for some time.

The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The circumstances that prompted the pilot to eject from the aircraft were not immediately clear.

Joint Base Charleston said in a statement that it coordinated with units and leaders in the Marines and Navy, as well as the FAA, Civil Air Patrol and local law enforcement across South Carolina. The base said searchers were using "both ground and air assets" in the effort.

When asked early Monday whether the jet had crashed, Huggins said he was unable to elaborate. He promised, however, that more information would be forthcoming. Further questions to Joint Base Charleston were directed to the Marines, which said it could not provide "additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process."

Huggins said searchers initially focused their attention north of the air base around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion based on the jet's last-known position and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration. That effort expanded on Monday afternoon, as searchers had little luck in the initial search area.

The incident attracted some criticism, with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., asking in a social media post: "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?" she wrote.

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."

The F-35 family includes three single-seat variants, including the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jet, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant and the F-35C carrier.

Chantal Da Silva
Mosheh Gains contributed.