NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The crash site for a stealth fighter jet that went missing during the weekend after its pilot ejected was located Monday in rural South Carolina after the military asked the public for help finding an aircraft built to elude detection.
The debris field was discovered in Williamsburg County, about 60 miles (96 km) northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Residents were being asked to avoid the area while a recovery team worked to secure it.
“We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” the base posted Monday on the X social media platform.
Authorities had been searching for the jet since the pilot, whose name hasn’t been released, parachuted to safety into a North Charleston neighborhood about 2 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition, Marines Maj. Melanie Salinas said.
“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marine Corps said in a news release on Monday evening.
The Marine Corps announced earlier Monday it was pausing aviation operations for two days after the fighter jet's crash — the third costly accident in recent weeks.
Gen. Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the stand-down while authorities searched near two South Carolina lakes for the missing FB-35B Lightning II aircraft.
It's the third event documented as a “Class-A mishap" over the past six weeks, according to a Marine Corps announcement. Such incidents occur when damages reach $2.5 million or more, a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or someone dies or is permanently disabled.
Commanders will spend the stand-down reinforcing safe flying policies, practices and procedures with their Marines, according to the Monday release.
The announcement gave no details on the two previous incidents. But in August, three U.S. Marines were killed in the crash of a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft during a training exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his combat jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Cpl. Christian Cortez, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said the details of what prompted the pilot to eject from the aircraft Sunday were under investigation.
Based on the missing plane's location and trajectory, the search was initially focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search after some bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday for any help from the public in locating the aircraft.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Beaufort, near the South Carolina coast.
This story was first published Sept. 18, 2023. It was updated Sept. 19, 2023 to make clear that the distance between the recovery field and the base is about 60 miles (96 km), not two hours.