By Jack Phillips
U.S. military officials said they are searching for a missing Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter in South Carolina, and they are asking for the public’s assistance.
Joint Base Charleston, an air base in North Charleston, South Carolina, wrote on social media on Sunday that it was attempting to “locate an F-35 that was involved in a mishap” that day. It confirmed that the pilot was able to eject safely from the plane and was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition.
The base then asked the “public … to cooperate with military and civilian authorities as the effort continues.” The Joint Base said in another social media post that anyone who has information about the missing F-35 should call the Base Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600.
A spokesperson for the base, Jeremy Huggins, told media outlets that the jet was left in autopilot mode. Officials said there is a possibility the F-35 is still airborne.
“I don’t know if the search parameters have shifted,” Mr. Huggins told 19FortyFive, a military and defense news website.
Based on the missing plane’s location and trajectory, the search for the F-35 was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston told The Associated Press. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search for the F-35 after some bad weather cleared in the area, Master Sgt. Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday for any help from the public in locating the aircraft.
Officials are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)—whose congressional district includes Charleston and outlying areas—wrote on social media to criticize the incident.
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“How in the (expletive) 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?” she asked.
No additional information about the incident was provided by the base.
The military considers F-35s to be perhaps the most advanced fighter jets due to their stealth capacities. More than 1,000 of these jets have been produced by Lockheed Martin over the years, costing tens of billions of dollars, and the firm has described it as the “most advanced fighter jet in the world.”
According to Air and Space Forces Magazine, each F-35 unit costs about $75 million on average.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a 2021 report that the F-35 program was the Department of Defense’s “most expensive weapon system program” to date. The estimated cost for the program is about $1.7 trillion for the aircraft and all its systems.
“This program is weighing options to upgrade its engine and cooling system. But it hasn’t taken some important steps, such as fully assessing the costs and technical risks of the different options. DOD also doesn’t plan to manage the upgrades as a separate acquisition program. This would limit Congress’s insight into possible future cost increases,” GAO said in the report.
The F-35 program is about 10 years behind schedule and some $183 billion over the original estimates for its cost, GAO said before it provided recommendations about how to handle costs.
In 2018, an F-35B crashed near Little Barnwell Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, while the pilot was able to eject from the aircraft. The GAO found that the cause of the crash was due to a manufacturing defect with the engine fuel tube.
That was the first time the F-35 crashed in nearly two decades of the program’s history.
Two years later, a Marines F-35B crashed near the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California, after it collided with a K-130 plane during an air-to-air refueling operation, according to officials at the time. The pilot of that plane also ejected safely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.