US military asks for help to find missing F-35 fighter jet after ‘mishap’ sees pilot eject

The Guardian, Mon 18 Sep 2023
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Search for F-35B Lightning II fighter jet focused on two lakes after Marine Corps pilot ejected over North Charleston for unknown reason

US military officials appealed to the public for help finding a fighter jet after losing track of it over South Carolina when the pilot ejected.

A Marine Corps pilot safely escaped the F-35B Lightning II jet over North Charleston on Sunday afternoon after a “mishap”, military officials said, adding that the search for his missing aircraft was focused on two lakes north of North Charleston.

The pilot parachuted safely into North Charleston at about 2pm and was taken to a local hospital, where he was in stable condition, said Maj Melanie Salinas. The pilot’s name was not immediately released.

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

The local Republican congresswoman, Nancy Mace, said: “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?”

The F-35 is in fact designed to be hard to detect – though in flight, with anti-radar elements, and not to the point of being invisible, as Donald Trump repeatedly claimed when he was in the White House.

In November 2017, in remarks to US Coast Guard members, the former president said: “So amazing we are ordering hundreds of millions of dollars of new airplanes for the air force, especially the F-35. You like the F-35? … You can’t see it. You literally can’t see it. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see.”

He also said: “That’s an expensive plane you can’t see.”

Trump returned to the subject frequently, in January 2020 telling an audience in Michigan the planes were “totally stealth, so maybe you won’t see them come in”.

In South Carolina, Stanton said a state law enforcement helicopter joined the search after bad weather cleared. Officials were investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said. The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston.

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 Associated Press contributed reporting.