Officials have now located debris from the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet that went missing in South Carolina. The multi-million dollar jet—the DoD’s most expensive weapon system—disappeared on Sunday near Charleston after the pilot ejected himself from the plane and safely parachuted to the ground following a “mishap” aboard the aircraft.
Joint Base Charleston asked the public for help as it conducted an extensive search for the jet alongside the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and announced personnel had finally located the debris two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston on Monday evening. The joint base requested members of the community avoid the debris area as recovery efforts are carried out in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. It added: “We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process.”
In a separate post on Facebook, Joint Base Charleston wrote: “The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process.”
The pilot of the F-35 was transported to a local hospital on Sunday and is in stable condition, the joint base reported, saying in a Facebook post that the mishap involved “an F-35B Lightning II jet from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.”
The incident raised safety concerns with the U.S. Marine Corps which issued a statement on Monday directing a two-day pause in aviation operations to discuss aviation safety. Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps, Eric M. Smith said in the statement that three Class-A aviation mishaps in six weeks prompted the need for a safety discussion.
“During the stand down, aviation commanders will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance, and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness,” the statement says. “This stand-down is being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews,” it added.
The F-35 mishap this week comes less than a year after an Air Force F-35A crashed in Utah in October, from turbulence in the wake of another F-35A. The wake affected the aircraft’s flight control computer system and the pilot wasn’t able to retake control as it was preparing to land because of the low altitude and airspeed.
Prior to October’s crash, another F-35 operated by Japan crashed in 2019. That crash was determined to be the result of human error when the pilot became disoriented, and in 2018, a faulty fuel tube in an F-35 fighter jet caused it to crash, prompting an inspection of the entire F-35 fleet.
An F-35 fighter jet, like the one that went down over the weekend, costs about $80 million, according to a report by Air & Space Forces Magazine earlier this year. However, a 2020 Project On Government Oversight report stated that each Marine Corps F-35B cost roughly $135.8 million, and a 2023 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter program is the Department of Defence’s most expensive weapon system. The report estimated that American taxpayers would pay roughly $1.7 trillion to “buy, operate, and sustain the aircraft and systems over its lifetime.”
Joint Base Charleston did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.