The US military has set up a hotline for a missing Marine Corps F-35 fighter jet that has been missing since its pilot ejected over South Carolina for unknown reasons, leaving the jet with stealth capabilities flying in a ‘zombie state.’
Joint Base Charleston asked the public on Monday to call the base if they have ‘any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35,’ which is worth $100 million.
The pilot ejected and parachuted safely into a residential area in North Charleston around 2pm Sunday. 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.
A Marine Corps pilot safely ejected from a F-35 Lightning II jet over North Charleston on Sunday but his aircraft remains missing
Officials have also said that they have no evidence that that the plane has actually crashed.
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. With a full tank, it could travel for hundreds of miles on autopilot.
Many are poking fun at the situation online, with social media users expressing disbelief the military can’t find such an expensive piece of military equipment.
X, formerly Twitter, has been filled with memes mocking the military and the Biden administration over the embarrassing incident.
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.
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.
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?
Lake Moultrie in South Carolina, where the search is concentrated, is around 75 feet at its deepest point
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.
In October last year, an F-35 jet crashed and exploded in flames at the end of a runway in Salt Lake City after the pilot ejected.
After the crash, the Hill Air Force Base said it was carrying out the ‘first of its kin F-35 recovery course’.
The training covered how to handle different scenarios safely and effectively, such as a collapsed nose gear, pilot extraction and aircraft hoisting.
‘This training is invaluable for not only our U.S. military, but also for our partner countries who operate the F-35,’ Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow, instructor and one of the course designers, said at the time.
‘Unfortunately, occasional mishaps take place, which necessitates having personnel properly trained on recovery procedures and how to safely accomplish these tasks.’
Large plumes of smoke were seen where the F-35 crashed, just outside of Salt Lake City, in October 2022
Flames could be seen from the downed plane in Utah after the F-35 jet crashed in October 2022
The Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort – where the pilot took off from in the most recent incident – 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.
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.