The US military has set up a hotline for a Marine Corps F-35 fighter jet missing since its pilot ejected over South Carolina for unknown reasons on Monday, leaving the plane with stealth capabilities flying in a “zombie state”.
Joint Base Charleston asked the public Monday to call the base if they have “any information that could help our recovery teams locate the F-35,” worth $80 million.
The pilot ejected and parachuted safely into a residential area of North Charleston around 2 p.m. Sunday. He was transported to a local hospital, where he is in stable condition, Maj. Melanie Salinas said. The name of the pilot has not been released.
On Monday, Marine Corps Commandant Eric Smith announced a two-day suspension for all air units, both inside and outside the United States, that will take place this week. No unit will be allowed to fly until after two days of discussing safety measures and procedures, according to an email viewed by ABC News.
Based on the location and trajectory of the missing plane, the search for the F-35 Lightning II jet focused on Lake Moultrie, about 50 miles from North Charleston, said Senior Master Sgt. . Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. The pilot activated the autopilot function before ejecting.
A Marine Corps pilot ejected safely from an F-35 Lightning II jet over North Charleston on Sunday, but his plane is still missing.
Officials also said they had no evidence that the plane actually crashed.
The artificial Moultrie Lake is 75 feet deep at its deepest point and 14 miles wide at its widest point.
An F-35 has a range of up to 1,200 miles, but it’s unclear how much fuel the plane had at the time it disappeared. With a full tank, it could travel hundreds of kilometers on autopilot.
Many are mocking the situation online, with social media users expressing disbelief that the military cannot find such expensive military equipment.
X, formerly Twitter, has been filled with memes mocking the military and the Biden administration over the embarrassing incident.
Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman for Joint Base Charleston, said that for some unknown reason the F-35’s transponder was not working. Huggins said, “That’s why we put out a request for public assistance.”
The jets are designed to be undetectable.
“The plane is stealthy, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it harder to detect than a normal plane,” Huggins said. the Washington Post.
A helicopter from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division joined the search for the F-35 after bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials launched an online appeal Sunday for any help from the public in locating the plane.
Authorities are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
The local assemblywoman, Representative Nancy Mace, tweeted: “How the hell can you lose an F-35?” How come there is no tracking device and we are asking the public to find a plane and return it?
Lawmakers have recently criticized the rising cost of producing the F-35.
A May 2023 report found that it costs a total of $1.7 trillion to sustain the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. Additionally, the program is $183 billion over budget. The plane is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
On Sunday, military officials appealed online for any help from the public in locating the plane.
Rep. Nancy Mace tweeted: “How the hell can you lose an F-35? How come there is no tracking device and we are asking the public to find a plane and return it?
Lake Moultrie in South Carolina, where the research is focused, is about 75 feet at its deepest point.
The planes and pilots belonged to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, not far from the Atlantic coast of South Carolina.
The Air Force considers accidents that “result in death, injury, illness or property damage” to be an “accident,” the Washington Post reports.
Following the first-ever F-35 crash in 2018, this accident was classified as a “Class A” accident, meaning that damages worth more than $2 million were accrued. .
In October last year, an F-35 plane crashed and exploded in flames at the end of a runway in Salt Lake City after the pilot ejected.
After the accident, Hill Air Force Base said it was holding the “first F-35 recovery course of its kind.”
The training focused on how to handle different scenarios safely and effectively, such as a collapsed nose gear, pilot extraction and aircraft jacking.
“This training is invaluable not only to our U.S. Army, but also to our partner nations who operate the F-35,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow, an instructor and one of the course designers, said at the time.
“Unfortunately, occasional incidents do occur, requiring personnel who are properly trained in recovery procedures and how to complete these tasks safely.”
Large plumes of smoke were seen where the F-35 crashed, just outside Salt Lake City, in October 2022.
Flames could be seen from the downed plane in Utah after the F-35 crash in October 2022.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort — where the pilot took off from in the most recent incident — is about 35 miles southwest of Charleston and is home to several units of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing , including Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 which flies F-35B Lightning II.
Approximately 4,700 military personnel serve in A 6,900-acre site that utilizes a large air-to-air combat zone off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as an air-to-ground bombing and gunnery range in McIntosh County, Georgia.
It was home to a heavily decorated Marine Corps pilot who died last month. when his fighter jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Maj. Andrew Mettler was piloting an F/A-18D Hornet when it crashed shortly before midnight Aug. 24 near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The accident was the fifth Class A aircraft accident – meaning damage totaling more than $2 million or one fatality – in the current fiscal year, and the first involving a Marine Corps aircraft, according to Task and objective.
This incident was confirmed by the incident known as the Cornfield bomber. In 1970, a pilot flying a Convair F-106 Delta Dart encountered problems that forced him to eject.
The decrease in load caused by the ejection, along with the force, allowed the plane’s nose to tilt and saw it land safely in a Montana farmer’s field with minor damage . The aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.