An F-35 jet may have crashed due to bad weather in South Carolina on Sunday, new audio shows, as questions arise over why the disastrous training exercise was allowed to go ahead.
The F-35B Lightning II that the unnamed Navy pilot flew is believed to be at risk of malfunctioning if flown during thunderstorms, according to reports. a Forbes survey in November.
Its sister aircraft, the F-35A, has been more seriously affected and cannot fly within a lightning radius of 25 miles.
The problem lies with the F-35’s OBIGGS (Onboard Inert Gas Generation) system, which pumps nitrogen-enriched air into the fuel tanks to make them inert, preventing the plane from exploding if struck by lightning.
“F-35B and C variants share some of the same OBIGGS issues as the F-35A, but have been able to mitigate the operational impact,” Chief Petty Officer Matthew Olay, spokesperson for the F-35 Joint Program Office, said in an e-mail. -mail. to Forbes last year.
Audio footage of Sunday’s crash shows the pilot telling emergency services after ejecting that he “lost the plane due to the weather.”
The scorched earth of the crashed fighter jet can be seen in South Carolina on Monday
The F-35 crashed only about 80 miles from its base, north of Charleston, South Carolina
It took off from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina on Sunday, along with another F-35, and took off at an altitude of 1,000 feet (300 meters) – slightly less than the height of the Empire State Building.
He was only about a mile north of Charleston International Airport, in a populated area that prompted the pilot to parachute into a residential backyard.
The emergency services were called at 1.42 pm on Sunday.
An audio recording preserved by Charleston County Emergency Medical Services shows a man on the phone telling someone, “He’s not sure where his plane crashed, he said he just lost it to the weather.” ‘
The plane was on autopilot at the time, Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman for Joint Base Charleston, told NBC News.
Separate audio, obtained by aviation enthusiast @aeroscouting, appeared to show air traffic control towers in the region trying to make contact with the pilotless aircraft. In the conversation, the ‘zombie jet’ is believed to be SWEDE-11.
Air traffic control tries to talk to SWEDE-12, the wingman, and says they have lost contact with SWEDE-11.
“SWEDE-12, do you have external communications with your wingman – he is not on… frequencies,” the ATC official says.
ATC tells the pilot of the tandem plane, SWEDE-12, that they will report his colleague as ‘NORDO’ – flying without a radio.
The missing plane flew about 60 miles before crashing near Bartell Crossroads, in a rural area with well-tended agricultural fields.
A couple from South Carolina shared it NBC News that they saw the plane flying above them ‘almost inverted’.
‘Our children always say hello, so we said, ‘Look at the plane. Oh my god, it’s so low,” said Adrian Truluck.
“And he was probably about a hundred feet above the treetops, almost going upside down.”
Her husband, Stephen Truluck, added, “It was probably three-quarters of the way,” turned around.
“We could see the canopy.”
File images show an F-35 flying at a terrifying angle
A Marine Corps pilot ejected safely from an F-35 Lightning II jet over North Charleston on Sunday, but his plane was not located until Monday afternoon
The Marines were unable to locate the downed plane for 28 hours, prompting a humiliating appeal on social media for help finding the missing $80 million plane.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert, told us The New York Post the pilot likely flew the stealth fighter without any tracking capabilities activated, hampering the search.
“If you turned on the built-in device, it would be easy to track,” he said.
“But this is a stealth aircraft. If you don’t turn on that specific device, it will be difficult to make contact. He or she probably didn’t have much time to respond.”
Once it was located, a Marine Corps team was dispatched to secure the wreckage and a second team, an aircraft accident investigation team, was sent to the site.
But questions are now being asked why the plane was allowed to fly, given its proximity to storms and concerns about its sister planes.
The National Weather Service has issued a “special weather statement” for the Charleston area, warning of winds of 55 mph.
They also warned of thunderstorms, heavy rainfall and “isolated tornadoes.” Radar images from Sunday around 2 p.m. indeed show thunderstorms throughout the area.
The Marines have not commented on the causes of the “accident” or the ongoing investigation.
The pilot who shot out of the sky has since been released from hospital.
The Marine Corps has announced a so-called ‘safety stand-down’: the grounding of its fleet for two days.
The measure is “to ensure the service maintains operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with properly prepared pilots and crews,” the Marines said.
Sunday’s accident is the third major incident involving Navy aircraft in the past six weeks.
In August, three U.S. Marines were killed in the crash of a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft during a training exercise in Australia.
Shortly afterwards, a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his fighter plane crashed near a base in San Diego during a training flight.
The aircraft is among the U.S. Department of Defense’s most expensive weapons system program, according to a May 2023 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
According to the report, the Defense Department is considering options to modernize the engine, and the “overloaded” cooling system requires the engine to operate “beyond design parameters.”
“The additional heat increases engine wear, shortens its life and increases maintenance costs by $38 billion,” the report said.
Former Marine Dan Grazier, who works at a defense watchdog and warned for years about safety problems with the F-35, said a software glitch or a cyberattack could have caused the missing plane to malfunction.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘There are thousands of penetration points, weaknesses across the enterprise that could allow a hacker to gain access to the software.’