The pilot of an F-35B Lightning II jet safely ejected — but the world’s most advanced fighter jet is nowhere to be found and the U.S. military has asked for help finding the plane, which is believed to have crashed because its location remains a mystery.
The $80 million F-35’s stealth is touted as one of the fighter jet’s marquee features and it was usually beneficial until the U.S. military lost one of the planes.
The unusual events took place Sunday north of Charleston, S.C., where a pilot from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 “safely ejected” for unknown reasons from the F-35B Lightning II. The Marine Corps did not specify whether the jet’s transponder was on, or whether it was carrying any armaments.
The Marine Corps on Monday issued a service-wide stand-down order for all aviation units inside and outside the country after the fighter jet disappeared over South Carolina.
Marine Corps acting commandant Gen. Eric Smith ordered the two-day pause following three aviation “mishaps” over less than two months – including the disappearance an F-35 fighter jet on Sunday.
The F-35B Lightning II is the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and features a vertical lift fan and pivoting engine nozzle to deliver vertical landing and short takeoff capability to expeditionary airfields.
Designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships with its short takeoff/vertical landing capability, the F-35B can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases
The F-35 was purchased to replace AV-8B Harrier IIs in the Marine Corps inventory.
The jet’s transponder, which usually helps locate the aircraft, was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined,” said Jeremy Huggins, a spokesperson at Joint Base Charleston. “So that’s why we put out the public request for help.”
Based on the jet’s last-known position and in coordination with the FAA, Huggins said searchers are focusing their attention north of Joint Base Charleston, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion.
“Joint Base Charleston is cooperating with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing out of MCAS Cherry Point, Navy Region Southeast, the FAA, the Civil Air Patrol, as well as local, county, and state law enforcement across South Carolina,” said Huggins.
“Teams continue to search for the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, using both ground and air assets,” said Huggins. “We appreciate the support we’ve received from our mission partners and every organization involved, as integrated teams are searching and preparing for the recovery of the jet.”
The pilot who ejected was taken to a local hospital and is in stable condition, and the incident is under investigation, base officials said.
In a service-wide email, the Marine Corps said the safety stand down will include discussions led by aviation commanders “focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness.”
The aviation pause comes after two other aviation accidents, including a F-18 crash last month during a training flight near San Diego that killed the pilot.
Three Marines died and 20 military personnel were injured when an MV-22B Osprey crashed in Australia in late August.