One of the most sophisticated and expensive fighter jets in the world is missing somewhere in South Carolina after a pilot was forced to eject for an unknown reason while leaving his F-35 with stealth capabilities flying in a ‘zombie state.’
The incident occurred over North Charleston around 2pm Sunday as two jets, worth around $100 million each, were flying side-by-side.
The pilot ejected and parachuted safely into a residential area. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was in stable condition, said Maj. Melanie Salinas. The pilot’s name has not been released.
Based on the missing plane’s location and trajectory, the search for the F-35 Lightning II jet was focused on Lake Moultrie, around 50 miles from North Charleston, said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. The pilot enabled the autopilot function prior to his ejection.
Officials have also said that they have no evidence that that the plane has actually crashed.
A Marine Corps pilot safely ejected from a F-35 Lightning II jet over North Carolina on Sunday but his aircraft remains missing
Jeremy Huggins, spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston said that for an unknown reason, the F-35’s transponder isn’t working
The plane and pilot were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, not far from South Carolina’s Atlantic coast
The man-made Lake Moultrie is 75 feet deep at its deepest and 14 miles wide at its widest.
An F-35 has a range of up to 1,200 miles but it’s unclear how much fuel was in the jet at the time that it went missing.
Jeremy Huggins, spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston said that for an unknown reason, the F-35’s transponder isn’t working. Huggins said: ‘That’s why we put out the public request for help.’
The jets are designed to be undetectable.
‘The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect,’ Huggins told the Washington Post.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search for the F-35 after some bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday for any help from the public in locating the aircraft.
Officials are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday for any help from the public in locating the aircraft
Rep. Nancy Mace, tweeted: ‘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?
Local congresswoman, Rep. Nancy Mace, tweeted: ‘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?’
Lawmakers have recently been critical of the growing cost of producing F-35s.
A May 2023 report found that it costs a total of $1.7 trillion to maintain the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. In addition, the program is $183 billion over budget. The aircraft is made by Lockheed Martin.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, not far from South Carolina’s Atlantic coast.
The Air Force regards accidents that ‘results in death, injury, illness or property damage’ to be a ‘mishap,’ reports the Washington Post.
Following the first ever F-35 crash in 2018, that accident was referred to as a ‘Class A’ mishap, meaning more than $2 million worth of damage was accrued.
The Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort is about 35 miles south west of Charleston and is home to several units of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing including the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 which flies F-35B Lightning IIs.
Lake Moultrie in South Carolina, where the search is concentrated, is around 75 feet at its deepest point
About 4,700 military personnel serve at the 6,900 acre site which uses a large air-to-air combat area off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, along with an air-to-ground combat and bombing range in Georgia’s McIntosh County.
It was home to a heavily-decorated Marine Corps pilot who died last month when his combat jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Major Andrew Mettler was piloting an F/A-18D Hornet when it went down at just before midnight on August 24 near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
That crash was the fifth Class-A aviation mishap – meaning damage totaling over $2million or fatality – in the current fiscal year, and the first involving a Marine Corps plane, according to Task & Purpose.
This incident has been confirmed to the incident known as the Cornfield Bomber. In 1970, a pilot flying a Convair F-106 Delta Dart encountered problems which forced him to eject.
The lessening of the load caused by the ejection, plus the force, allowed the plane’s nose to dip and saw it land safely in a farmer’s field in Montana with minor damage. The aircraft is now on displace at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.