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A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II jet has gone missing near Charleston, South Carolina after its pilot was forced to eject on Sunday afternoon.
The pilot safely parachuted into a North Charleston neighborhood around 2pm local time. He was taken to a nearby hospital and is currently in stable condition, according to Marine Corps spokesperson Maj. Melanie Salinas. The pilot’s name has not been released.
The fifth-generation stealth fighter jet was taking part in a training mission with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina. The squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, around 70 miles south of Charleston.
According to Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston, the pilot ejected somewhere over North Charleston during the flight. The jet’s trajectory indicates that it likely went down in Lake Moultrie or Lake Marion, both located north of the city.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined search and rescue efforts after stormy weather cleared Sunday evening. The Marine Corps has appealed to the public on social media for any information that could help locate the missing warplane.
An investigation is underway to determine what caused the pilot to eject. A second F-35 on the training mission was able to return safely to Joint Base Charleston, per Maj. Salinas.
The F-35B Lightning II is the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Pentagon’s most advanced stealth fighter jet. It is designed to operate from amphibious ships and austere bases closer to the front lines.
The futuristic single-engine jet is flown by both the Marine Corps and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. It has faced numerous development challenges over the years including problems with its complex software and engine issues, leading to major cost overruns.
The Marine Corps declared the F-35B ready for combat in 2015. There are currently around 340 F-35Bs in service, with hundreds more on order. The jet sells for around $115 million apiece, making it the military’s most expensive warplane ever.
Sunday’s crash comes just weeks after a Japanese F-35A disappeared from radar screens during a routine training flight. The wreckage of that jet was later recovered from the Pacific Ocean last month. Investigators believe the Japanese pilot suffered spatial disorientation when the fighter plunged into the sea at high speed.
This latest incident will likely raise more questions about the F-35’s reliability as the Pentagon continues expanding its fleet. With any new aircraft, technical issues and accidents are unfortunately not uncommon during the early years as crews gain experience operating the plane. But there will undoubtedly be intense interest in determining the cause of this mishap.
Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland serves as the lead testing base for both the F-35B and F-35C carrier variants. Test pilots there have logged over 12,000 flight hours across the F-35 fleet. The base continues working closely with manufacturers to resolve any problems and further refine the stealth jets’ capabilities.
The Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and allies who fly the F-35 expect it to be their frontline workhorse for decades to come. Despite past stumbles, the program has made significant progress maturing the aircraft. Yet Sunday’s crash underlines the need for continued vigilance and training as the complex fighter becomes fully operational.
This remains an ongoing story that we will continue monitoring for new developments. Our thoughts go out to the pilot and we hope for his quick recovery. Check back regularly for further updates and analysis as more details on this incident emerge.