For the second day, officials in North Charleston, South Carolina, are searching for a missing F-35 fighter jet that disappeared after a U.S. Marine pilot ejected from the aircraft Sunday afternoon, and asked the public to assist in the search effort, going as far as to set up a hotline for tips.
Officials said flight data shows the F-35B Lightning II flying over Lake Moultrie near Charleston, and asked anyone who knows anything to call Joint Base Charleston.
Jeremy Huggins, a spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston, told the Washington Post on Monday that officials asked for the public’s help because the jet’s transponder, which helps locate the aircraft, was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined.”
The Marine Corps issued a two-day stand-down for all aviation units both inside and outside the U.S., ABC News reported, as the investigation into the missing fighter jet remains ongoing.
Various governmental entities are assisting in the search effort including the Second Marine Aircraft Wing, the Civil Air Patrol, Navy regional authorities in the Southeast and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The F-35 was left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected from the jet, Huggins told NBC News on Monday, signaling there’s a possibility the aircraft could still be airborne somewhere.
The pilot of the fighter jet is in stable condition after safely ejecting from the aircraft, Joint Base Charleston said in a Facebook post Sunday evening.
What We Don’t Know
It’s unclear what caused the pilot of the jet to have to eject from the aircraft or what the identity of the person is. It’s also unclear if the jet could have already crashed somewhere.
Initially, criticism of what officials are calling a “mishap” was mainly coming from figures within the state. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)–whose district includes Charleston–posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) criticizing the mishap, asking: “How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” Mace also questioned why there wasn’t a tracking device on the jet. But on Monday, criticism of the missing jet spread to other Republicans. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said the military asking for help finding the F-35 is what happens when “military leaders are more focused on woke ideology than actually running a competent military.” Conservative commentator Benny Johnson said, “only under the Biden Administration could the US Military lose an $80 million F-35 jet in the air.”
F-35s are advanced fighter jets that have been part of the U.S. military’s infrastructure for years. Lockheed Martin has produced more than 1,000 of these stealthy aircrafts, which the company describes as the “most advanced fighter jet in the world.” In 2001, the U.S. military selected Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to develop and produce the aircraft, but that later came with severe cost overruns and technical problems. The first time an F-35 crashed was in 2018 after what was classified as a “Class A” mishap, or an incident that resulted in damages that total more than $2 million, the complete destruction of the plane or the fatality or permanent total disability of the crew, according to the Washington Post.
$1.7 trillion. That’s much the F-35’s Joint Strike Fighter program costs to buy, operate and sustain the aircraft and systems over their lifetimes, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released in May. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Defense Department’s most expensive weapons system program, with estimates of a single F-35 costing between $75 million and $80 million each.