Mystery surrounds missing US fighter jet that crashed in South Carolina

The fighter jet is worth around £93 million   (Jack Guez / AFP via Getty Images)
The fighter jet is worth around £93 million (Jack Guez / AFP via Getty Images)

The US military is facing questions after one of their military jets disappeared before crash-landing in Charleston, South Carolina.

On September 17, a “mishap” in the aircraft prompted its Marine Corps pilot from the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 502 to eject themselves from the fighter jet.

While the pilot landed safely, the plane seemed to continue on its flight path, with officials struggling to locate the plane.

At the time, officials wrote on social media: “If you have any information on the whereabouts of the F-35, please call our Base Defense Operations Center.”

Almost a day later, officials confirmed that debris in a field in Williamsburg County was the remnants of the F-35 fighter jet.

After finishing their search, Marine Corps officials said: “The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process.”

Why did the F-35 go missing?

There have been a lot of questions about how the US military could lose such a sophisticated aircraft after its pilot ejected.

Retired colonel Steve Ganyard told ABC News: “Even though it’s a stealth aircraft, losing a stealth aircraft is hard to understand. ... It does seem ridiculous that an aircraft this expensive, this sophisticated, it could just vanish.”

Representative Nancy Mace, the South Carolina Republican, wrote on social media: “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?!”

Initial reports suggested that the plane may have been in autopilot mode when the pilot was forced to eject from the aircraft. While he was able to parachute to safety, the plane may have continued on its flight path.

Current investigations are yet to confirm what technical issues occurred within the aircraft.

What do we know about the fighter jet?

The jet, made by Lockheed Martin and dubbed as one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, is thought to cost around $115m (£93m). And, the F-35 is the most expensive and largest weapons programme of its kind across the globe.

According to US media, the plane belonged to the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, known for training US military pilots.

Why did the pilot need to eject?

The pilot is understood to have ejected from the plane from a height of around 1,000 feet (300m) before landing safely in the backyard of a nearby property. The unidentified pilot has since been discharged from hospital.

In a statement to the BBC, the Marine Corps revealed that their knowledge of what happened to cause the pilot to eject was “limited” for now, saying they were working on gathering more information.

A second F-35 jet that is thought to have been flying at the same time returned safely to its base in Charleston, according to military spokeswoman Major Melanie Salinas.

In 2018, when an F-35B crashed in South Carolina, the US military had temporarily grounded its entire fleet of jets of the same kind while it investigated its faulty fuel tubes.