Emergency call details reveal moments after F-35 pilot ejects from jet: ‘Not sure where airplane is’

Emergency call details reveal moments after F-35 pilot ejects from jet: ‘Not sure where airplane is’

Details have emerged of a four-minute phone call made by a military pilot to 911 from the South Carolina home where he had parachuted to safety after ejecting from an F-35 fighter jet.

The pilot could be heard in the recording repeatedly requesting an ambulance and a puzzled emergency responder trying to make sense of it.

"We got a pilot in the house, and I guess he landed in my backyard, and we're trying to see if we could get an ambulance to the house, please," the resident said, according to the Associated Press.

The 47-year-old pilot said he was feeling "OK" after falling an estimated 2,000ft, which injured his back.

“Ma’am, a military jet crashed. I’m the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling," the pilot told the responder. "I’m not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash-landed somewhere. I ejected.”

Later he made another plea for medical help: "Ma'am, I'm a pilot in a military aircraft, and I ejected. So I just rode a parachute down to the ground. Can you please send an ambulance."

The $80m Marine Corps fighter jet crashed on Sunday after a malfunction that prompted the pilot to eject over Charleston not far from the international airport. The debris was later found in a South Carolina field after a day-long search.

Officials with Joint Base Charleston confirmed that debris of the F-35B Lightning II jet from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, was located in the Indiantown area of Williamsburg County.

The fighter jet, which the Marine Corps said was at an altitude of only about 1,000ft, kept flying for 60 miles (97km) until it crashed in a rural area.

In a separate eight-minute dispatch call, an unidentified official tried explaining that they had "a pilot with his parachute" but no information about what happened to his plane or word of a crash. He said, "the pilot lost sight of it on his way down due to the weather".

The official also recalled hearing a "rather loud noise" about 25 minutes prior that "sounded something like a tornado, possibly a plane".

The Marine Corps said a feature on fighter jets intended to protect pilots in emergencies could explain how the F-35 managed to continue its travels. They said that while it was unclear why the jet kept flying, flight control software would have worked to keep it steady if there were no longer a pilot's hands on the controls.

"If the jet is stable in level flight, the jet will attempt to stay there. If it was in an established climb or descent, the jet will maintain a 1G state in that climb or descent until commanded to do something else," the Marine Corps said in a statement.

"This is designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness."

The Marines said features that erase a jet's secure communications in case of an ejection – a feature designed to protect both the pilot's location and the plane's classified systems – may also have complicated efforts to find it.

"Normally, aircraft are tracked via radar and transponder codes," the Marines said. "Upon pilot ejection, the aircraft is designed to erase (or 'zeroize') all secure communication."

With agency inputs