Officials Find Debris Field in Search for a Missing F-35 Fighter Jet

A missing military aircraft’s debris field has been located in South Carolina.
Officials Find Debris Field in Search for a Missing F-35 Fighter Jet
An F-35 performs aerial maneuvers during the Wings Over Houston Airshow in Houston, Texas, on Oct. 18, 2019. (Senior Airman Alexander Cook/U.S. Air Force)
Caden Pearson

A debris field has been discovered in Williamsburg County, South Carolina, which is believed to be connected to the missing F-35B military aircraft that vanished on Sunday following the pilot’s ejection, according to a statement by the Marine Corps on Monday evening.

This debris field was located approximately two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston.

The Marine Corps has advised members of the community to steer clear of the area as the recovery team secures the debris field. according to a news release. The recovery process will be led by the U.S. Marine Corps after Joint Base Charleston hands over incident command on Monday evening.

On Sunday, a pilot safely ejected after a “mishap” involving the aircraft and was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition, according to Joint Base Charleston’s Facebook post.

The incident prompted a coordinated response from military units, federal agencies, and local authorities, all working together to reconstruct the events leading up to the mishap and its aftermath.

“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marine Corps said in a statement on Monday.

Given the missing plane’s location and trajectory, the search for the F-35 Lightning II jet was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, according to Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are situated north of North Charleston.

The aircraft belongs to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, a unit primarily dedicated to training pilots to meet their annual training requirements, according to the unit’s official website.

Officials are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said.

Numerous entities, including Joint Base Charleston, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Navy Region Southeast, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Civil Air Patrol, and various local, county, and state law enforcement agencies across South Carolina have been working collaboratively to locate the aircraft and secure the debris field.

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. Marine Corps instituted a stand-down order for all pilots in the wake of the missing F-35 stealth fighter jet incident. This order prohibited any units from engaging in flight activities until further notice.

The Marine Corps clarified that this decision followed three Class-A aviation mishaps within the past six weeks.

“Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric M. Smith, directed all Marine Corps aviation units to conduct a two-day stand down in operations this week to discuss aviation safety matters and best practices,” the Marine Corps statement said.

The safety stand down will involve discussions led by aviation commanders, focusing on safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance, flight procedures, and combat readiness, the Marine Corps statement said.

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican, whose district includes part of Charleston, expressed her alarm over the incident and its potential risk to the public safety of residents in her district.
“How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” Ms. Mace wrote on X. “How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”
“When there is an ongoing situation which potentially threatens public safety, the Pentagon has an obligation to keep citizens and their representatives informed,” she said in a further statement on Monday.

The two other mishaps referred to occurred in August.

On Aug. 24, a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet combat jet crashed near San Diego, resulting in the pilot’s death. The cause of this accident remains under investigation. Days later, during military exercises in Australia, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey crashed, resulting in the fatalities of three U.S. Marines and serious injuries to five others. The cause of this crash is also under investigation.

Following those incidents, Gen. Eric Smith, who is currently serving as the acting commandant, issued a directive last month for all Marine Corps units to reassess their safety protocols.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.
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